Prioritizing Mental Health and Self-Care for Nurses

While most nurses are eager to discuss their profession with friends, family, and colleagues, conversations surrounding depression and anxiety remain taboo despite the prevalence of these mental health conditions within the field. Self-care for nurses is perhaps not given the attention it deserves.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative, 18% of nurses exhibit symptoms of depression — double the rate within the general population. These numbers have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. One survey found that 93% of healthcare workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported anxiety, and 75% reported feeling overwhelmed.

The survey also indicated that 38% of healthcare workers did not feel they had adequate emotional support. Unfortunately, nurses were even less likely to report having adequate emotional support (45%).

Many nurses will continue to avoid seeking the mental health support they need simply due to the stigma of being viewed as weak or inferior and admitting to needing help with their mental health.

Why Are Nurses Prone to Depression and Anxiety?

Many of the factors that impact an individual’s mental health, including significant stress, an odd sleep schedule, and lack of support, are a normal part of a nurse’s profession. In fact, nurses often experience mental health challenges at a higher level than individuals working outside of the healthcare industry. Some of the specific causes of anxiety and depression among nurses are discussed below.

High-Stress Situations

From a nurse’s first day on the job to their last, no two shifts are identical. Nurses are thrust into new situations daily, forced to use their knowledge to recall information quickly and often make life and death decisions. It’s a never-ending process of learning through experience. For individuals in a new nursing job, the anxiety induced by these high-stress situations can be even more pronounced, especially if they are exacerbated by insufficient peer or mentor support.

Fear of Causing Patient Harm

Even veteran nurses can find themselves feeling overwhelmed by their work. Nearly all healthcare professionals, regardless of their rank, are haunted by the fear of creating a medical error. Unfortunately, this extreme habit remains a psychological burden for many nurses who are unable to cope with the complexity of this level of high stress when the shift is over. A high level of stress moves from an abnormal, unusual event to a normal, recurring event in the brain. This becomes a central part of their daily lives, even after the scrubs come off. This creates a trigger and is unknown to the nurse when they are faced with this level of decision making.

Finding Work/Life Balance

The difficulty of creating a clear division between work and home is a significant cause of anxiety and depression among nurses. Due to the nature of nurses’ schedules, which often prevent them from doing much more than eating and sleeping on their days off, finding the time to take a step back and focus on themselves and their families can be challenging, making self-care for …read more

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