Experiences of barriers to trans-sectoral treatment of patients with severe mental illness: A qualitative study

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Background: Patients with severe mental illness (SMI) have shorter life expectancy than people without SMI, mainly due to overmortality from physical diseases. They are treated by professionals in three different health and social care sectors with sparse collaboration between them, hampering coherent treatment. Previous studies have shown difficulties involved in establishing such collaboration. As the preparatory phase of an intervention to improve physical health of people with SMI and increase collaboration across sector borders, we explored different actors’ experiences of barriers for collaboration. Method: We collected qualitative data from patients, professionals in general practice, psychiatry and social psychiatry involved in the treatment of these patients. Data consisted of notes from meetings and observations, interviews, focus groups and workshops. Analysis was by Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Results: The study revealed many obstacles to collaboration and coherent treatment, including the consultation structures in general practice, sectors being subject to different legislation, and incompatible IT systems. Professionals in general practice and social psychiatry felt that they were left with the responsibility for actions taken by hospital psychiatry without opportunity to discuss their concerns with psychiatrists. There were also cultural differences between health care and social psychiatry, expressed in ideology and language. Social psychiatry had an existential approach to recovery, whereas the views of health professionals were linked to symptom control and based on outcomes. Meanwhile, patients were left in limbo between these separate ideologies with no leadership in place to promote dialogue and integrate treatments between the sectors. Conclusion: Many obstacles to integrated trans-sectoral treatment of patients with SMI seem related to a lack of an overriding leadership and organizational support to establish collaboration and remove barriers related to legislation and IT. However, professional and ideological barriers also contribute. Psychiatry does not consider general practice to be part of the treatment team although general practitioners are left with responsibility for decisions taken in psychiatry; and different ideologies and treatment principles in psychiatry and municipal social psychiatry hamper the dialogue between them. There is a need to rethink the organization to avoid that the three sectors live autonomous lives with different cultures and lack of collaboration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number87
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Systems
Issue number1
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • General practice, Integrated care, Psychiatry, Recovery, Severe mental illness, Social psychiatry

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