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Greater focus needed on early treatment

Nurses use Mental Health Week to call for more action to treat chronic illness.

The detrimental impact of untreated mental health disorders on patients suffering from chronic illnesses will be a focus of Mental Health Week.

ANF federal secretary Lee Thomas said it was alarming that patients with chronic illnesses suffer much greater rates of depression and anxiety than the general population.

Thomas said there must be greater focus on early treatment of depression in people with chronic illness, so they have a chance of overcoming the symptoms and enjoying a better quality of life.

"Optimum mental health leads to greatly improved physical health and faster recovery rates, which is good for the Australian community, and which will reduce the cost of long term treatments and health support she said.

Nurses and midwives play a crucial role in intervention, assistance and referral of patients across all health sectors, but more investment was needed into urgent education at universities and in the workplace to better equip nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

"Better training and education will ensure that nurses have the skills to recognise the symptoms and assist with treatment and referral," Thomas said.

It is widely recognized by health professionals that depression is the most common complication to almost all chronic or serious medical conditions, she said. Four chronic illnesses - cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer and respiratory conditions - are responsible for 60 per cent of deaths worldwide.

Thomas said despite the obvious connection between mental health and recovery from serious illness, not enough was being done. "Families, patients and nurses want action to help those who are suffering. Treating both mental and physical illness is the best way to ensure patients achieve optimal recovery,” she said.

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