Dealing With Mental Illness In The Hospice

Hospices are known to be for the chronically ill, terminally ill, or severely ill due to some disease. But did you know that the people there could also be struggling with mental illnesses or other mental health issues? The patients put in hospice care are often those whose conditions may lead to their passing. As such, it can prove to be a distressing environment. It isn’t pleasant to know that you’re living in a place where you, or the people you met, may one day disappear.


It’s crucial for hospices to cater to both the patient’s physical needs. However, it’s also vital to address their emotional, social, and spiritual needs. After all, a patient’s mental health could negatively affect their overall condition if not attended to.

Here are a few ways one can integrate mental health services into the hospice:

Have Kind And Caring Employees

From the moment the patients enter the hospice until the day they leave, they needed to feel welcome, comfortable and cared for. Kind and accommodating staff can accomplish this.


Hospices work with licensed psychiatrists—doctors, nurses, counselors, and the like. Their job is to help in developing a hospice plan that supports the patients’ physical treatment as well as the state of their mental health. But even if it is the psychiatrist’s job to maintain the mental state of the patients, it should be a goal of all hospice employees.

Be kind and genuine with the patients. Talk to them about what they’re feeling. Listen when they want to tell you their story. And, of course, look out for any signs and symptoms of severe mental illness.

As with most things, we fear what we do not know. Even though hospice has become more commonplace, there are still certain entrenched beliefs that keep people from using their services. — Marilyn A. Mendoza Ph.D.

Have Game And Sports Sessions They Can Join

There are a lot of games that people in the hospice can get into. Board games such as chess and checkers are the obvious choices. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and sudoku work as well.

Sports are a trickier topic to tackle. It’s safe to assume that most patients in hospice care will be the elderly. Given this, the activities have to be those that seniors can enjoy. Something as simple as a walking tour would be good for the patients. But they can also try swimming, Tai Chi, or walking football.

If there are a lot of patients that seem to be enjoying the game or sports session, consider organizing a tournament! Some healthy competition is good for the patients. These game and sports sessions are important because they give the patients something to look forward to if they love Sudoku Sunday’s, that gives them a reason to go through the week—to get to Sunday.

Offer Counseling And Therapy Services

There are sure to be patients who will need counseling or therapy. Make sure that the hospice has a resident counselor or psychiatrist, or at least one on call. This way, patients with a worsening state of mental health can be attended to and given professional help.

Physicians can help patients feel less alienated by working collaboratively with psychologists who think about the illness experience from a comprehensive and multi-faceted perspective. — Tamara McClintock Greenberg Psy.D.

Other than the usual form of therapy, where the patient has a one-on-one session with the therapist, there are other forms that the hospice can offer. Art therapy, music therapy, and even animal therapy are some examples of alternative types of treatment, which all have different sets of benefits to the patients. Consult a psychiatrist to plan an alternative therapy session for the hospice.

Reach Out To The Patients’ Families And Close Friends

A simple visit from the family can spark joy in the patient. When possible, speak to the patient’s families to arrange a visiting schedule. Doing so gives the patient something to look forward to.

Family visits provide the patient with a stable social connection. After all, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to make friends within the hospice. Moreover, studies show a strong correlation between people, especially seniors, and their family connections.

With the amount of stress that caregivers/spouses/partners are under, they often experience health problems, too. As one man said in our group, “Any one of us (caregivers) could be zapped with a stroke at any time—then where would our loved ones be?” — LuAnn Pierce, LCSW


Alternatively, if the patient does not have that powerful connection with their family, you can reach out to their friends. Close friends also make for a good support system. Remember that each patient is different. Some will prefer visits from their family, others will prefer their friends, and others would like both. Find out which is which before making calls. Inviting the wrong people might worsen the patient’s mental state.

These are only a few ways a hospice can help in maintaining the mental health of their patients. Make sure not to neglect psychological health care nor physical care. Both are crucial in ensuring the comfort and stability of your patients.

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