The death of a spouse or close loved one are two of life’s top stressors, according to the Social Adjustment Rating Scale of the most stressful events impacting one’s health. During Mental Health Awareness Month, Heart to Heart Hospice wants families to know the vital ways we care for the mental and emotional health of our patients and their families.

“We help our patients and families find acceptance, gain coping skills, and achieve peace that involve a variety of mental health tools,” said Heart to Heart Hospice. Each patient’s emotional support system is different, as are their coping mechanisms and openness to mental health resources. Knowing the unique mental and emotional burdens around the dying process and caregiving, plus fighting stigma surrounding mental health, means our hospice provider offers informed care with dignity and compassion.

Emotional and Mental Health When Facing a Terminal Diagnosis

Pain, fear of the unknown, and progressive physical symptoms naturally take a toll on one’s mental health. But these don’t have to spiral into apathy and despair, even when death is an understood outcome. The hospice care team will honor a patient’s personal values, cultural and religious traditions, socioeconomic status, and family dynamics to offer appropriate emotional and mental support. 

Mental health and psychosocial care includes everything from medications, counseling, grief and bereavement support to volunteer companion visits, compassionate nurses and aides who offer a listening ear, spiritual care, meditation tools, and specialized therapies (some locations provide therapies like gentle touch, music, or pet therapy).

According to an NIH study of advanced cancer patients, palliative care clinicians “emphasize coping with patients and caregivers not only to bolster resilience, adaptation, and well-being but also to help patients with advanced cancer and their caregivers come to a deeper understanding of prognosis and tolerate having a terminal diagnosis.” Hospice providers can help patients find methods to “redirect hope toward realistic goals” and behavioral approaches like seeking social support or anxiety-reducing techniques. Further, understanding and adapting are key when building a positive mental health outlook. 

With patient-driven end-of-life goals, hospice helps families gain back some control in how they envision their final months. Apathy can turn to empowerment, hopelessness can transform into peace. Hospice also supports caregivers with extensive education, stress management tools, and self-care promotion, even offering short-term respite care when caregivers face burnout.

Existing Mental Health Conditions

Patients may already have a mental health diagnosis before qualifying for hospice, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or hopelessness. Hospice practitioners help ensure patients stick to a protocol of medication or counseling, plus recommend additional support if needed. 

Even when a patient is facing a terminal diagnosis, their mental and emotional wellbeing isn’t ignored in favor of only pain management. Hospice addresses these important mental components of comfort care so quality of life is achieved. 

Specialized Areas of Care

Heart to Heart Hospice also recognizes the importance of tailored mental health care for unique backgrounds. This includes:

  • Veteran Care: Hospice staff is trained on specific care techniques for military veterans, such as triggers derived from deployments to mental health challenges like depression, PTSD, or guilt. Read more about our veteran support programs here.
  • Disease-specific Care: Diseases like cancer, cardiac disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and dementia carry distinctive challenges. Our staff continually works to increase education in this area to provide better care, including programs like Care Bridge Cardiac Care or dementia-certified practitioners. We also make informed recommendations for outside support groups, therapy, and more.

For Mental Health Awareness Month, Heart to Heart Hospice honors our staff who address these critical patient needs, including social workers, bereavement coordinators, spiritual care coordinators, nurses, aides, community education representatives, and volunteers. Patients can confidently count on support for their mental and emotional wellbeing.