Simone Biles stunned the world when she withdrew from Olympic competition to focus on her mental health. She was the latest in a recent string of celebrities who have opened up about personal struggles with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other forms of mental illness.

The truth is: mental health is far more prevalent than a few public cases. One in five Americans experience a mental illness each year, and one in 25 live with a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the situation, with 40 percent of adults now reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression and 13 percent of adults turning to alcohol or other substances to cope with coronavirus-related stress. Pandemic stress, especially from social isolation, has negatively impacted children’s mental and emotional health as well.

Mental illness is a real-world problem that nurses encounter on a regular basis. To properly deliver patient-centered care, nursing students must be trained to assess the patient’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being as well as their physical being.

However, access to mental health facilities is limited, making it increasingly difficult for nursing students to obtain clinical experience working with this population. This is where virtual simulation should be engaged. It allows learners to encounter, evaluate, and treat patients with a variety of mental health issues in a safe and risk-free virtual environment.

Practice Makes Perfect

Encountering a patient with a mental disorder can be frightening. With 20 percent of Americans experiencing a mental health issue each year, it is imperative that we provide nursing students with the opportunity to become comfortable recognizing and treating patients suffering from mental health disorders. Virtual simulation can provide our future nurses with the expertise and confidence to treat a wide range of mental health patients.

Severe Acuity: Prioritization of Care Specialty Series – Acute Mental Health Inpatient offers a variety of authentic scenarios in which to develop critical knowledge and confidence.  When learners meet 48-year-old Brian Rabin. He is highly agitated, pacing back and forth, with hands clenched into fists, and an angry expression. His patient history reveals he has antisocial personality disorder. While these low frequency but high acuity cases are rare, nurses need to be trained to recognize the characteristics of severe mental health issues.

Co-Occurring Conditions: Nurses are often called to treat mental health patients with co-occurring conditions. The perfect example of this is Elena Diaz, also from the Prioritization of Care simulation. The 28-year-old presents with several lacerations to her face and appears restless, agitated, hypervigilant and is the victim of intimate partner violence. In this virtual simulation module, the nursing student must decide how to treat Elena’s physical injuries as well as her fragile mental state. This activity prepares students to handle cases of domestic abuse, where they may be called upon to calm the patient, gain trust, tend to wounds, and keep him or her engaged until law enforcement arrives.

Collaborative Care: Interprofessional Teams simulation introduces learners to Jenny. She has been a patient at the Sentinel City clinic since she was nine years old. Now a teenager, Jenny is visiting the clinic because she fainted at school and her mother is concerned she might have an eating disorder. This is just one of many mental health issues Jenny faces throughout her young life. In other modules, learners see Jenny for ADHD, depression, and alcohol use. This particular program offers an excellent example of outpatient mental health management with a team approach. Students learn how to coordinate care with multiple professionals, understand roles and responsibilities and hone communication skills.

Virtues of Virtual Simulation

Studies have proven the effectiveness of experiential learning approaches such as virtual simulation over traditional teaching methods for developing knowledge and insight into sensitive subject areas such as mental health care. Additionally, the use of virtual simulation’s interactive scenarios, taken from authentic medical situations, has been proven to help decrease the fear and anxiety of working with individuals who have mental health disorders and promote greater self-confidence and understanding of mental illness.

Join Us

On Tuesday, September 28 at 11 a.m. EDT, Sentinel U® will be hosting a webinar featuring a panel of leading mental health educators discussing how virtual simulation can better prepare nursing students to address the growing incidence of mental illness in this country. Joining me for this important conversation will be Brayla Roberts, MSN, RN, an Assistant Dean and Professor at Arizona College.

Register Now