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Nursing & Mental Health

Happy Nurse’s Week to all of my fellow nurses out there!  I am very proud to be a nurse. It’s an amazing profession. Nursing is more than a job, though; it is a calling. It’s not just something you do, it is something you are; so it can be hard to maintain a level of separation when work is such an integral part of who you are. So how can nurses step back and make sure that they are caring for themselves in addition to the wonderful care they provide to their patients?

First, let’s take a look at some facts.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) found that hospital nurses are twice as likely as the general public to suffer from clinical depression.  That is, 9% of “everyday” citizens experience clinical depression while a whopping 18% of nurses are affected.

At first I found this number alarming. But then I thought about my last shift at work.  

One doctor hung up on me and another doctor walked out of a room while I was mid-question.  I was on the phone with our pharmacy trying to clarify a medication order. All the while call bells didn’t stop ringing, the other line of the phone rang off the hook, the doorbell was going off, and a co-worker stood over my shoulder trying to tell me something about a patient.  

Just writing that sentence made my heart rate increase a bit.  The stress of the job is real, there is no denying that. And this particular example is simply with the “behind the scenes” of nursing, if you will.  

Providing quality care to your patients while making each one feel as if they are of the utmost priority can be difficult. Nurses try so hard to be everything to everyone all of the time, but it is hard to be stretched so thin between competing priorities.  From malfunctioning or slow equipment to supplies not being restocked and everything in between, there’s a lot that can throw you off your stride.

Finding ways to effectively deal with the pressure and stress of the job is important.  Without strategies for stress management, you personally will suffer and subsequently so will the level of care you provide.

Workplace Mental Health – Tips for Self Care for Nurses

Bernadette Melnyk, a professor and Dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State University said, “Nurses do a great job of caring for other people, but they often don’t prioritize their own self-care.”  

Taking the time for self-care will not only improve your own well-being, it will allow you to be the best nurse you can be for your patients! Consider these self-care tips:

  • Take a break!  Patient care with nursing is a 24 hour job.  But you are not there for 24 hours (I hope). You simply cannot get everything done.  You are one person and you are only human.  Check on your patients and then tell a coworker you are taking a 5-10 minute break.  I did this on my last shift and actually stood outside because it was a beautiful day. I felt like a brand new person by the time I got back to the unit. Make the most of your break by trying some breathing exercises.  These can be very helpful when you feel stressed.
  • Make friends with other nurses.  This sounds like a simple suggestion, but I believe it is worth noting. Who knows what you are going through better than a fellow nurse?  Being able to talk, laugh, or cry about something that happened at work and have the other person understand exactly what you are going through is kind of priceless.  Even if you don’t work at the same hospital, they still “get it.”
  • Speak Up and Do it Often.  This one continues to be a work in progress for me, day in and day out.  Need help? Ask for it. Delegate when you can. Feel like you aren’t being treated with respect, whether it be from co-workers, patients or other medical professionals?  Say something. Working in an environment where you feel valued and respected is crucial.
  • Get Real Help.  The strategies provided here will help you cope while you’re in the middle of a long and stressful shift.  But if you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, get the professional help that you need. There are resources to support nurses who are struggling with mental health issues and/or addiction.  Reach out to human resources and see what employee assistance programs are available to you. You can also speak with your primary care physician for referrals on a psychologist or psychiatrist. Pennsylvania also has a program called the Pennsylvania Nurse Peer Assistance Program, whose mission is “to identify, intervene upon, advocate for, monitor, and provide support, help, and hope to the Nurse or Nursing Student experiencing Substance Use Disorders, Mental Health Disorders, and/or Physical Disorders that may affect their ability to practice”. Help is there for you…people want you to succeed!

Thank you for reading! By taking the time to do so, you’ve taken the first step towards better self-care.  If you are at work, go treat yourself to that 2nd (or 3rd) cup of coffee and continue to provide that excellent care to your patients.  If you are home, put up your feet and relax. You deserve it!

About the Author: Casey Lynn Rossi is a maternity nurse, and mother of two.

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