Nursing lecturer takes dual diagnosis research to Hawaii

Nursing lecturer takes dual diagnosis research to Hawaii

A CPIT nursing lecturer researching mental illness and disability has received a Fulbright scholarship and will travel to Hawaii this Saturday (2 November) for two weeks.

Chris Taua’s work for her PhD with The University of Queensland, exploring issues surrounding healthcare consumers with intellectual disability and mental illness, earned her an invitation to speak at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa College of Education Colloquium and to give a lunchtime presentation at the Hawaii State Center for Nursing at the University of Hawaii as well as visits to various services.

“Nursing where there is a dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and mental illness requires skills such as patience, confidence and excellent communication skills particularly when the person may not be able to communicate verbally. Nurses need to also be skilled in using picture boards, or reading body language in order to sort through the complexities” Chris said.

For her research Chris has interviewed mental health nurses, healthcare consumers with intellectual disabilities and carers. It has been challenging work at times. Finding healthcare consumers with a dual diagnosis has stretched the data collection out over more than a year. Convincing protective carers to let people with intellectual disabilities take part in the research and taking the time to ensure the participants understand what they are taking part in is all part of the process.

Chris Taua 

“On one occasion I spent 30 minutes with a person making sure he was giving informed consent and understood his participation. Then I started to interview him and after seven minutes, he’d had enough of talking to me!”

The lack of research in the area has driven her on though. “Even though mental health nurses are highly skilled, they can find it difficult to deal with people with intellectual disabilities because these people do not present typically.

“I want to find out how best to work with this group. The prevalence of mental illness in people with intellectual disability is around 40%, compared to the general population average of 20%, so it is a significant issue for this group.”

For Chris this is complex but familiar ground. “As a nurse I worked in mental health and the last eight years of my clinical practice I specialised in the mental health needs of people with an intellectual disability.”

For the last 12 years Chris has worked at CPIT’s School of Nursing. Sometimes she is tempted by the idea of returning to clinical practice, but she loves teaching and research even more and gaining her PhD is her entry into adding valuable research to the sector. Her work, particularly around informed consent, has already been published in books and journals such as the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing and Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities.

“Because it is such a specialised area, sharing my research is particularly important. I receive meaningful feedback from my peers and by working together we make better progress in informing the sector.”

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