Could a Psychiatric Care Nurse Prevent Tragedy?


October 18th, 2010

In light of the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, the media is now fascinated with the idea that extensive psychiatric care could prevent future tragedies. In the case ofTech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, who had a history of severe mental illness, he did not receive any psychiatric care during his time in school. Sadly, he ceased receiving therapy his junior year in high school. And yet, the argument goes that had he had a psychiatric care nurse assigned to him for an extended period of time, especially when he was on his own at college, the massacre could have been avoided.

Of course, such a shift would require that we significantly increase the number of psychiatric care nurses available to care for mental health patients, especially those who suffer from schizophrenia, for extended periods of time. With this shift will come expenses, both in terms of educating more psychiatric care nurses and providing jobs for them.

Unfortunately, trends suggest that recently the number of psychiatric care nurses have decreased in the United States due to the government’s withdrawing of financial support for traineeships. In fact, according to research, the number of psychiatric care nursing graduates dropped significantly in the years between 1980 and 1996, reaching an all time low that year at just only 443 graduates versus 781 in 1980.

If the government could reinstate funding for such programs, then perhaps we could grow the number of psychiatric care nurses to better accommodate our mentally ill citizens, especially those who are at-risk of becoming violent. Psychiatric care nurses could very well provide extended support for mentally ill patients both in institutions and out in society. The very presence of a psychiatric care nurse, someone who is trained to take care of physical ailments as well as mental ones, could be a calming presence for the patient. A psychiatric care nurse could function as both a care-giver as well as a daily advisor, someone to whom the patient could turn to in certain situations for advice.

Due to the large number of patients function in society, we would have to set up a system by which to assign psychiatric care nurses to those who appear to most need the help. Such a system could allow us to better manage our resources in helping mentally ill patients be functioning members of society.

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