S. Lord1, V. Naidoo1, S. Pilusa1
1University of Witwatersrand, Physiotherapy, Johannesburg, South Africa

Background: The prevalence of mental health disorders is increasing globally. In South Africa, neuropsychiatric disorders are the third-highest contributor to the burden of disease, preceded only by HIV and other infectious diseases. Research suggests that patients that present with pain, chronic illness and psychiatric disorders have a higher burden of disease and a poorer quality of life. In high-income countries physiotherapy plays a key role in the management of patients with mental health disorders, however, in South Africa, their role is not well understood.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to explore the perceived role of physiotherapists in the management of patients with mental health disorders in Gauteng, South Africa. Factors impacting (impeding or facilitating) the physiotherapeutic management of mental health disorders were also investigated.

Methods: This was an exploratory qualitative study which took place in mental health facilities (one public and five private facilities) across Gauteng, South Africa. Purposive sampling was used to recruit participants, who were registered physiotherapists. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted until data saturation was reached. A total of eight interviews were conducted, with seven interviews included in the analysis. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematic content analysis was done by the principal investigator and two co-researchers.

Results: Participants in this study lacked consensus regarding their role in the management of patients with mental health disorders. While some participants felt that physiotherapy did have a role to play, others felt that it did not form part of their scope of practice. The perceived facilitators to physiotherapy management included a positive work environment, with adequate support, interprofessional collaboration and previous experience and exposure, as well as the positive personality traits of the physiotherapist. Perceived barriers to physiotherapy management included a lack of knowledge regarding the role that physiotherapy can play by healthcare professionals and patients, a lack of funding available for treatment, patient demeanour and lack adequate of training and work experience.

Conclusion(s): This study concluded that physiotherapists lacked consensus regarding their role in the management of patients with mental health disorders. Many of the factors identified as facilitators to management, were also identified as barriers to management. The perceived barriers were largely due to an unconducive work environment and the perceived facilitators were a favourable work environment as well as the attributes of the physiotherapist.

Implications: This study highlights the gap in knowledge regarding the role physiotherapists play in mental health disorders. This may be due to lack of awareness or knowledge from local healthcare professionals, indicating a need to improve the training of physiotherapists and healthcare professionals. Data from this research can be used as a basis for future research and to advocate for the awareness regarding the role physiotherapists can play in mental health disorders.

Funding, acknowledgements: This study was funded in part by the South Africa Society of Physiotherapy

Keywords: Perceptions, Mental health disorders, Physiotherapy

Topic: Mental health

Did this work require ethics approval? Yes
Institution: University of Witwatersrand
Committee: Human Research Ethics Committee (Medical)
Ethics number: M160536

All authors, affiliations and abstracts have been published as submitted.

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