Get better outcomes with new mental health course

Cartoon of a person sitting with their hands around their knees in a giant glass bottle floating in the ocean.

Get better outcomes with new mental health course

Cartoon of a person sitting with their hands around their knees in a giant glass bottle floating in the ocean.

Co-developers Joanne Connaughton and Susan Edgar discuss the APA’s new online course, which aims to improve identification and increase understanding of common mental health problems.

Who would benefit the most from attending ‘Mental Health Physiotherapy Level 1’?

All physiotherapists would benefit from undertaking the Level 1 course.

The recommended prerequisite is Mental Health First Aid training as this provides a baseline in mental health literacy, including the knowledge and skills to interact with people who may be experiencing a mental health problem or who are in a crisis.

Twenty per cent of Australians will experience a mental health disorder in any one year.

A risk factor for developing mental illness is having poor physical health, chronic pain or an ongoing physical disability, so physiotherapists are likely to encounter many patients with comorbid mental illness.

Statistics show that ongoing mental illness can affect recovery from physical health problems, which means that understanding the basic pathophysiology of the more prevalent mental illnesses and how this might influence a person’s interactions and recovery is important to enable optimum outcomes of physiotherapy interventions.

What is the relationship between mental health and the physical problems with which clients present to physiotherapy? 

Joanne Connaughton and Susan Edgar are co-developers of the APA’s new online course on common mental health problems.

This is a complex question that is discussed in detail during the course.

A person with poor physical health, chronic pain or physical disability is at higher risk of developing mental health problems and statistics also show that people with serious mental illness have poorer physical health than those with good mental health.

Research undertaken since 2001 has demonstrated that people with ongoing mental illness have higher mortality and morbidity from preventable disease.

Sadly, the statistics have not improved much.

In Physiotherapy in Mental Health and Psychiatry, a reference book used in the course to which Jo has contributed, Jo provides some examples of how a physiotherapist might treat a person who presents with both physical and mental health problems.

Examples include:

  • Treating a person who has mental health problems that have led to the development of physical health issues. This might include orthopaedic treatment for someone who has injuries from an attempted suicide, lifestyle interventions for a person who has developed diabetes secondary to weight gain associated with antipsychotic medications or a falls prevention treatment for a person with dementia.
  • Providing physiotherapy for degenerative conditions in a person who has developed mental health problems as a result of their physical condition. For example, someone who has multiple sclerosis is at higher risk of developing depression.
  • Seeing someone who presents with unrelated mental and physical health issues, such as a person involved in a motor vehice accident who also has a mental illness.
  • Treating a person with a physical health issue where the issue is known to have a correlation with developing a mental illness, but the mechanisms are not clearly defined. This could be someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease experiencing anxiety or someone with heart disease developing depression.

It is worth noting that it is more important to recognise that a person presenting to physiotherapy has both a mind and a body and to treat them accordingly than it is to know the underlying reason for a person having both a mental and a physical health problem.

Why is it important for physiotherapists to be able to identify and understand common mental health conditions?

As first contact practitioners, physiotherapists often identify social, emotional and behavioural signs that point towards mental health problems.

Although we can’t diagnose, we can refer clients on for appropriate professional help.

As with physical health problems, early intervention is crucial to helping clients begin their recovery.

In addition, recognising that a person possibly has mental health problems and understanding the mechanisms behind certain behaviours can enable a physiotherapist to make appropriate adjustments when assessing the person and when developing treatment programs.

This can result in better engagement and better treatment compliance and outcomes. 

What are participants likely to take away with them for use in everyday practice?

Participants will be able to clearly identify risk and protective factors across the life span of their clients and explore some of the more common mental health conditions; their medical management, including pharmacology and assessment tools; and appropriate physiotherapy intervention.

When working through the course, participants will apply different management strategies to case studies and develop an understanding of how physical and mental health problems interact in a client.

The new online ‘Mental Health Physiotherapy Level 1’ course is now available.

Click here for more information and to register.

>> Dr Joanne Connaughton was the inaugural chair of the APA Mental Health group, was instrumental in Australia joining the International Organization of Physical Therapy in Mental Health and for 20 years has advocated for the development of educational programs about mental health and mental illness specifically for physiotherapists.

>> Susan Edgar has worked in the tertiary education sector for over 20 years with a strong interest in supporting student mental health and mental health literacy. She is a qualified MHFA instructor, running courses for students and clinicians across Australia, and is currently the Program Coordinator of Edith Cowan University’s Student and Staff Mental health Strategy.


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