Conversation with the APNA Research Council

Jane Mahoney Danny Willis As chairs of the APNA Research Council. Jane Mahoney and Danny Willis know the value of evidence-based practice and the critical role research plays within it. Below, they give their insight into the importance of mental health research, how it helps underserved populations, and what questions they'd like to see answered by research.

Q: Why is mental health research important?

A: It is critical to advancing the science behind human care provided to individuals, families, communities affected by emotional and mental disorders. Without the science to advance knowledge related to human mental health and effective knowledge-based care processes and interventions, the populations we serve are at risk for less than the ‘best’ care that they deserve.

Mental health research identifies new interventions aimed at symptom reduction and quality of life as well as studies that inform how we may effectively impact the stigma associated with mental illness and mental health care. Such research has the potential to increase access to care as many Americans do not make use of existing services due to the shame and societal stigma associated with mental illness.

Psychiatric nurses are on the front-line 24/7 providing knowledgeable evidence-based care but we have faced in the past, and continue to face, many challenges in the larger arena of funding for research in psychiatric mental health nursing. Funding for mental health research is needed and critical to providing the best care possible!


Q: Why is it important for patients and caregivers to be involved in research?

A: Caregivers and patients’ involvement in mental health research is critical for advancing knowledge that is likely to help meet their identified needs. The perspectives, experiences and voices of consumers and those who are impacted by a loved one’s condition advise research informed strategies and interventions aimed at improving their lives. Who knows better than the end user if the intervention is likely to make a difference for them or if they are likely to participate in evidenced-based interventions?

The definition of evidence-based practice includes the patient perspective and values. While individual perspectives and values vary, including representatives from those who live with a mental illness provides insiders’ perspectives that may help providers understand potential endorsements or rejection of specific interventions. No research results can make a difference if the patient-centered mandate of care is not part of the research plan.


Q: What are some of the mental health questions you would like to see answered by research?

A: As former APNA President Kris McLoughlin said, Whole Health Begins with Mental Health. Therefore, we need more research to understand humans’ healing and recovery capacities and the types of environments that promote whole health, healing, and restoration. How do we characterize healing and healing environments within the context of various mental health disorders? What emotional regulation and stress management approaches are most effective related to various disorders and within varying contexts?

We also have an ongoing challenge associated with the stigma of mental illness. What are the most effective strategies for combatting this stigma? There needs to be more research that focuses on dismantling and de-constructing stigma dynamics and processes while promoting mental health for all as an integral part of whole health. Caregiver research is also important. How can caregivers of individuals with mental illness be supported to function at their optimal level? The decade of the brain may have passed, but brain and cognitive science, along with neurobiological underpinnings, are important avenues to be explored.

Other areas of needed research include how to attract the best clinical minds to the mental health profession. It is especially important to recognize and address the shortage of psychiatric nurses and conduct studies to identify research-based interventions to improve the current shortage. Deconstructing existing inpatient processes that have resulted in lowering seclusion and restraint rates while simultaneously reducing 1:1 care could be very helpful in increasing safety and reducing cost of care.

The area of suicide is in dire need for robust research studies. There is no area of society that is not impacted by suicide, and the numbers are staggering. Another area of research sorely needed in mental health is translational research. Organizational culture often plays the most important role in fostering or rejecting research findings into practice. Results from translational research studies could go a long way to de-mystifying the application of research findings to clinical care.


Q: What has mental health research missed when it comes to helping underserved populations?

A: There needs to be more outreach and access to mental health care for underserved populations. What models enhance access to quality culturally-congruent mental health care for underserved populations? It is also important that the research include long term economic as well as physical and mental health consequences to family members and caregivers. This is important in all mental illness cases but especially important to survivors of a family member’s suicide.


Q: How do we best get mental health research results to clinicians?

A: It is important for clinicians to be informed about the latest research. There are various ways for this to occur. One prime way is the delivery of the latest research through conferences, proceedings, and on-the-ground journal clubs. Dissemination of research evidence within local settings on a monthly basis through coordinated forums among the various mental health professions (for example bringing together psychiatric nurses/nurse practitioners/clinical nurse specialists, psychiatrists, mental health social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists etc) is also an excellent route.

Despite the availability of various mechanisms to disseminate research findings to clinicians, there is a lack of understanding about how to adopt new therapies. The problem is especially pronounced in mental health where the culture of many organizations fails to make evidence-based practice (EBP) a mandate. It would be helpful to study mental health organizations who have a history of clinical research and adoption of evidence-based practices that are tightly woven throughout their system. This could help inform others about effective organizational cultural strategies to move their organizations forward to becoming early adopters of EBP.


Join the APNA Research Council at the APNA Annual Conference on Friday at 4:45pm for their Interactive Panel, Toward Quality, Accessible, Culturally-congruent Psychiatric Nursing Care: Leading the Way through Research and Evidence-based Scholarship.
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In case you missed it: APNA just funded three research and quality improvement projects this year. Learn more here.


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