By definition, self-care is a deliberate action we perform to accommodate our mental, emotional and physical health. It’s a simple concept in theory — but one that can be easily neglected, especially in the context of the patient experience. “When I was a psychiatric nurse at an inpatient psychiatric hospital, one of the first things I learned was that when there was a mental health issue, one of the first things to be compromised was an individual’s self-care,” said Safiya Daley, a faculty member at Loma Linda University School of Nursing.
While self-care primarily concerns sleep patterns, diet and interpersonal relationships, the crux of the issue became clear to Daley in her observation of patients' hair care needs; specifically, a patient of color who didn’t have the appropriate hair products for treating thicker, matted hair.
“I was working with a 7-year-old girl; her hair was very matted," Daley recalled. "You can tell she was embarrassed by her appearance. So, I gave her the bag of toiletries which was the protocol for each patient, and it had a fine-tooth comb."
When Daley met her the next day, she learned the young patient had an incident the night before which escalated due to emotional stress and anxiety. She didn’t like how her hair looked, and it was making her anxious because she had to be around others the next day. "The fine-tooth comb was not going to work with her type of hair,” Daley said.
As Daley further assessed the patient, she discovered that the patient didn't have the products needed to manage her hair appropriately and feel confident and comfortable with herself, which is vital in the psychiatric patient setting.
“This difficulty was causing prolonged self-care time, frustration and embarrassment in our patient," Daley said. "She did not want to participate in group therapy or even leave her room because she was embarrassed by the state of her hair."
Daley knew how to fix the problem. After purchasing a wide tooth comb and leave-in conditioner for the patient to use, she felt confident to leave her room and participate in group therapy. "This scenario is one of many, and it has motivated me to become a patient advocate for this cause,” Daley said.
A graduate student in the Loma Linda University School of Nursing's Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner program, Daley finds inspiration in this cause and focused her graduate research project around an applicable solution.
“My ultimate goal is to completely fund a pilot project that would place these wide tooth combs and conditioners on a wider selection of patient units and have more research stem from that," Daley said. "I want to explore how it affects patient satisfaction, nursing satisfaction in regards to workload, and to see how it would affect the budget and finances of operating a unit.”
The project is still in development, but the objective is clear: to find the cost vs. benefit of proper self-care accommodations to psychiatric patients of with ethnic hair who cannot use a fine tooth comb.
“I want this to be a catalyst for further discussion on patient self-care," Daley said. "It’s important to employ certain protocols and adjust them to meet the broadest range of needs when it comes to our patient landscape.”
"When your mind is in a better state, your body is going to follow.”