A qualitative study of clinical nurse specialists' views on depression in palliative care patients

Williams, Mari Lloyd; Payne, Sheila
July 2003
Palliative Medicine;Jul2003, Vol. 17 Issue 4, p334
Academic Journal
Depression is the most common psychiatric illness in patients with terminal cancer. Depression not only lowers the quality of life for the patients and their families, but patients who are depressed may also have physical symptoms that are difficult to palliate and that improve as their depression is appropriately treated. However, up to 80% of the psychological and psychiatric morbidity that develops in cancer patients goes unrecognized and untreated and patients are often reluctant to spontaneously discuss symptoms with medical and nursing staff. In the UK, palliative care clinical nurse specialists have a key role in the assessment of symptoms and advising on management in patients with advanced metastatic cancer. A qualitative study was carried out to determine how specialist palliative care nurses, working both in the community and within a hospital, perceive, assess and manage depression in their patients. Seventeen nurses were interviewed. Nurses found it difficult to discuss depression with their patients and tended to focus on physical symptoms. The lack of training in identifying psychological and psychiatric symptoms was a source of concern to nurses as was the difficulties they encountered in trying to persuade medical staff that patients required further assessment or antidepressant medication. Nurses also felt that psychiatric expertise was not utilized as fully as it could be. The findings of this study have implications for the training and support of nurse specialists in the psychological and psychiatric assessment and management of palliative care patients.


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