As a nurse, you are responsible for the mental health of your fellow hospital staff members on a daily basis. You are also tasked with caring for patients who may be experiencing stress or mental health challenges.
The importance of caring for patients and maintaining their mental well-being is paramount, which can make it difficult to know how to provide care appropriately without causing any harm to the person in your care or without violating any policies or guidelines.
Nurses, in particular, are vulnerable to experiencing stress and burnout, especially when caring for patients with psychiatric or mental health concerns. Nursing is a physically and emotionally demanding career, and the toll of dealing with difficult patients and situations can add up over time.
It is important to take steps to prevent burnout, as well as to recognize signs that you may already be experiencing symptoms of burnout. Mental health awareness in the nursing community can help to highlight the importance of supporting one another through stressful situations.
Why is Mental Health an Issue for Nurses?
Nursing is a physically and emotionally demanding career, and the toll of dealing with mentally ill patients and difficult situations can add up over time.
Nurses are not immune from mental health problems themselves. They are susceptible to psychological distress, which can range from mild to severe.
On the mild end of the spectrum is stress, resulting from work-related demands. The more severe end of the spectrum includes depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)
Nurses’ stress levels can be further exacerbated by working with struggling patients and families who are experiencing mental health issues. These patients may be physically ill as well as mentally ill. Their needs may not always coincide with your own, which can make caring for them difficult or even stressful.
Mental Health and the Nursing Profession
It is normal to experience emotional ups and downs while working in a nursing setting.
However, it may not be easy to identify signs of burnout, especially if you are feeling emotionally drained and burned out.
If you are experiencing fatigue, emotional instability, and poor concentration, it is important to take action immediately. You should consult with a doctor or mental health professional to find out how best to manage the situation and determine when this might be a serious issue.
Note: While nurses are well-advised to seek help, it is not always easy in a hospital setting. The stigma associated with mental illness may make people reluctant to discuss or disclose symptoms, or they may fear that they are doing something wrong.
Developing a Support System for Nurses
Proper self-care is essential for feeling mentally healthy.
Since nurses, in particular, can be emotionally and physically drained from caring for patients with mental health challenges, it is important to take action to prevent burnout so you can continue to provide care without succumbing to stress and fatigue.
Proper support systems really start at the college level for trainee nurses, whether you are involved in colleges that promote online accelerated nursing programs or programs that are taught in person.
There are many things you can do to ensure your wellness is being attended to on the job as well. In the long term, you’ll need to make sure you find a mentor.
A mentor can help guide, teach, and support you when you are new to the hospital setting. A mentor who is also a mental health professional may be particularly helpful if you are struggling with feelings of stress or depression.
A mentor who is not a mental health professional but who has a strong support system of their own may also be a good option for seeking guidance when managing stressful situations on the job.
Work to strengthen your social networks and personal relationships so that when times are tough, you have someone to turn to for help or moral support.
Nursing Safety Concerns and Patient Care
Patient care comes in many different forms but is incredibly rewarding.
It can also be incredibly stressful, especially when you are caring for patients who are experiencing mental health issues.
While it is important to continue to provide care for every patient, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy work/life balance as long as you feel overwhelmed by the stress of caring for mentally ill patients.
In closed psychiatric units (such as on psychiatric units or inpatient rehabilitation or chemical addiction units), nurses are often part of a team that takes care of patients full-time. This can make it difficult for nurses to have their own personal health needs met and lead to issues like burnout.
What Are the Signs of Burnout?
Burnout is a recognized problem in the workplace and can lead to a situation in which concern for the well-being of patients is compromised.
Burnout is a real problem and shouldn’t be ignored, as it can do long-term damage to your mental and physical health.
Nurses who are experiencing burnout may exhibit one or more signs:
- You experience frequent feelings of irritation, frustration, and fatigue.
- You lose your ability to maintain a positive attitude.
- You constantly feel overwhelmed by work-related demands.
- Your work environment is negatively affecting your mood, relationships with other people, and quality of life.
- You frequently have a negative view of your job as a whole, or you feel that it has taken on a negative quality.
- You have little interest in going to work.
What are the Causes of Stress For Nurses?
Much of what you experience is work-related, but there are other factors that play a role in your mental state.
Workplace stress can be caused by:
- Heavy workloads and burdensome responsibilities.
- Workload unpredictability, such as not knowing how many patients you will have to take care of in a day or week.
- Lack of staff, so that you are required to carry out tasks without the help of another co-worker.
- Unwelcome changes within the workplace environment, such as physical changes or policies that negatively affect your work.
- Over-reliance on technology due to workflow demands.
The Wear and Tear of the Nursing Profession
Nursing students are exposed to a lot of mental health issues when they are in training, but once nurse educators and professionals enter their workplace, they see even more stressful working conditions that they may not have been prepared for.
- The work is physically as well as mentally demanding.
- The hours are long; you may be on-call or have to work long shifts without breaks or time off for your own health concerns.
- The hours can be irregular and somewhat unpredictable.
- Nurses often feel that they don’t get enough recognition for the good work that they do, which can lead to stress and frustration.
To deal with the issues confronting you and to maintain your mental health, you may also want to consider talking with a mental health expert.
They will listen without judgment and work to help you understand what’s going on in your life so that you can address it appropriately. They can provide support by making sure that you are taking care of yourself, as well as offering advice, ideas, or even their personal experiences.
You will have the opportunity to speak with a qualified professional who is knowledgeable about stress, burnout, and emotional health.
They’ll help you see that your mental health is important and needs to be taken care of.
They will also work with you to help you make adjustments in your life that will increase your level of well-being and keep you healthy, both physically and mentally.
Supporting Staff Who Have Mental Health Problems
The work environment is stressful for all members of the healthcare team.
Nurses and other staff who suffer from mental health problems may be uncomfortable going to their co-workers for support.
It can be difficult for them to ask for help because they know that it will raise questions about their commitment to the job and cause other staff to wonder whether they will be able to continue at the hospital or in the field.
This can put those with mental health issues on the “firing line.”
Staff who are experiencing stress, burnout, or depression often feel alone in their situation and that no one understands what they are going through.
Many employees will fear that their co-workers will notice changes in behavior or performance or that they will be made a target of gossip.
They may also fear being openly criticized by their co-workers and have reservations about asking for help with work-related issues.
If you are a nurse who is suffering from mental health problems, here are some strategies that can help.
Identify the problem
The first step to dealing with the stress of work is to identify the problem and decide if it’s manageable.
It’s not always possible for employees who are experiencing stress or traumatic events at work to manage those problems without reaching out to others for support.
If you have a supervisor or someone on your staff that you feel comfortable enough with to talk about your problems, this may be a good person to go to for support.
Your staff may also have a human resources representative who can help you through the process of dealing with stress-related problems.
You can also seek assistance from an employee assistance program that offers confidential counseling, which will allow you to discuss your issues without fear of being “found out.”
Educate yourself and get help
Learn as much as you can about stress and burnout so that you are better able to manage the demands that are placed on your shoulders.
You can protect yourself from stress by making positive lifestyle changes that will help you meet your work objectives and maintain your health.
You can also learn to manage your emotions so that you are in control of how you react to situations.
Stay on track at all times
Asking for help should not be viewed as a sign of weakness but rather as a decision to actively take charge of your life and take control of the situation.
Staying on task when dealing with stressful situations helps to maintain the integrity of relationships at work and prevent mistakes from being made.
In addition, it prevents stress from building up over time, which can cause long-term damage to the body.
Reduce high-risk situations
Consider ways in which you can alter your work patterns so that you are able to reduce the severity of risky situations.
For example, if you work nights and are consistently sleep-deprived, it will probably help to adjust your schedule so that you’re not working at night.
In some cases, it may be necessary for employees to take time off from their jobs for a short period of time or get reassigned to another position within the organization where they will be better able to meet their personal needs.
Be honest about all problems
It is important for employees to be honest about any health-related problems that they are experiencing so that those who work with them can provide support.
They should also be honest about where the problem comes from and how it could affect the company or other people in their lives.
Get professional help when needed
If you are dealing with severe stress, depression, addiction, or any other significant mental health issue, you may need to get help professionally by speaking with a mental health professional.
You should seek out a qualified therapist that will offer you information and guidance to let you know how best to handle the situation.
Conclusion: Why Nurses Should Start Talking About Mental Health
There’s a lot of stigma around mental health that can keep people from seeking help.
They may be embarrassed to admit that they are struggling or believe that their struggles are inconsequential because of an illness.
Stigma and negative attitudes can also cause other people’s experiences with mental health issues to be overlooked.
It’s important for everyone to acknowledge the fact that pressures of the job, such as a lack of sleep, high demands, or even unrealistic expectations, can damage physical and emotional health.
Once these issues are identified and addressed, employees can reduce the symptoms of those conditions by making adjustments in their personal lives and improving relationships at work.