Adjusting to life after a heart attack or heart disease diagnosis can be a challenge. As well as the physical side of recovery, it’s common for patients to feel sad, angry or confused.
And for nearly a third of patients, those feelings of emotional distress persist – leading to depression or anxiety. These conditions not only impact quality of life but can lead to higher rates of mortality and hospitalisation.
Identifying patients most at risk of a mental health condition following a heart attack is an important part of ongoing care and recovery.
To support regional residents recovering from serious heart conditions, WA Country Health Service (WACHS) has launched the potentially life-saving telehealth cardiac rehabilitation service in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt region.
The telehealth service is available to people recovering from heart attack, heart failure, surgery or heart disease. It includes specialist programs of exercise, nutrition and education, as well as counselling to support mental health and wellbeing.
Screening for mental health conditions is a key part of the process, with health teams referring patients to specialised support services as needed.
The program offers patient-centred and flexible care, accessible to patients from the comfort of their own home.
Nicole Skavik, WACHS Clinical Nurse Specialist, said the service provides psychosocial support tailored to individual patient needs.
‘It's important to support the mental health of people living with a heart condition. A person’s mental health can really impact on their ability to look after their physical health,’ Ms Skavik said.
‘Minimising the risk of further cardiac events can involve some big lifestyle changes, which for some people can be hard. Mental health challenges can make starting and sticking with those changes even harder.
‘Many patients ask questions about what life might be like in the future. I can help source specialised mental health care options if needed, but also be a bit of a bolster until we get there.’
The flexibility of a telehealth-delivered, in-home service means that patients are more likely to start sooner and continue with their rehabilitation program, improving outcomes and quality of life and lessening the chances of hospital readmission.
Since its introduction, Wheatbelt residents have already benefited from the service, which is expected to be expanded to other parts of regional Western Australia in 2023.
Helen McLean, Senior Healthcare Programs Officer (Equity) for the National Heart Foundation of Australia, has seen firsthand the positive impact mental health screening can have as part of cardiac rehabilitation.
‘Having coordinated the cardiac rehabilitation services for many years, I saw firsthand the burden of cardiac disease,’ Ms McLean said.
‘A physical heart event brings with it distressing and often debilitating emotional, behavioural and cognitive changes. Social isolation and lack of social support are significant risk factors for this vulnerable community.’