Mental health encompasses our emotional, social and psychological wellness. The general state of our mental health directly affects our thought patterns, feelings, behaviors, actions, decisions and relationship with others. People who can handle mental stress and adapt effectively are less likely to suffer from severe mental illnesses. Failing to take proper care of your mental health can lead to serious health issues as the World Health Organization (WHO) rightly stated that “there is no health without mental health”.
Nursing as a profession is demanding, fast paced and requires tremendous amount of focus, energy, and responsibility. This makes nurses prone to mental health problems (Portia Wofford, 2018). Being a nurse in any part of the world is never easy; even in highly developed countries. The scope of work and roles nurses play on and off professional practice greatly affects their mental health and coping patterns. Due to short-staffing of nurses in clinical areas, the employed ones usually work longer hours, overtime or more than 2 shifts a day and sometimes face both physical or emotional abuse from colleagues, clients and their relatives (as there are no strict rules and policies in place demanding hospitals and facilities nurses work to protect them from unwarranted abuses physically and emotionally).
This occupational stress experienced by nurses in their work environment contributes to their poor mental health. This is proven true as to the recent suicide acts committed by nurses around the world. Nursing is now one of many occupations with growing rates of suicide since 2016. A study released in 2017 revealed that about 23% of nurses are more likely to commit suicide than women in general and are four times more likely to commit suicide than people working outside of the medical field. From such statistics, it potentiates horrendous results in the future if appropriate measures are not put in place.
Most times, nurses even tend to forget about caring for their own mental health and stability due to enormous work demands which could later result into depression, anxiety, stress and a lot more.
“Nurses are known not to care for themselves as much as they care for others, it’s just a part of who we are” -Davidson, a nurse scientist told BUSINESS INSIDER USA during a survey conducted in August 2019.
Hence, when a nurse experiences such anomalies which affect her mental health, it could lead to so many negative effects poor nursing judgement, malpractice and negligence in work environments.
The mental stress affecting nurses today started a long time ago, I must say. Speaking from experience, I’ll say it started from their days in nursing school and universities. From 200 level in the university; learning anatomy, physiology and biochemistry aside core nursing courses can be pretty bulky as students try to strike a balance between their physical, social and academic life. As from 300 level to graduation, it becomes tougher with courses such as Medical-Surgical Nursing, Public and Environmental Health, Maternal and Child Health and Pharmacology, preparing for nursing council exams, writing numerous assignments and term papers, client case studies and projects, seeking ways to pay up for numerous fees and charges with very short deadlines and lots more. With all these, nursing students have little or no time to attend to other important things, sometimes ending up frustrated and depressed.
WHAT ASSISTANCE CAN BE RENDERED TO NURSES? As earlier stated, while caring for others, nurses tend to neglect their personal health which is inappropriate because to be efficient in healthcare delivery, nurses have to be physically, mentally and emotionally sound. Hence their health should be made a priority. The following could improve nurses’ general health outcome:
- Professional help should be made available in health institutions.
- Personal and Mental health support systems should be established which would prioritize the services of a psychiatric nurse or health psychologist whose primary role to provide support to improve physical and mental health of nurses.
- Nurses should be compelled and given at least one-off day each month to visit these specialists for checkups.
- Nurses should be able to plan their schedules and participate in other activities which would distract them from the stressors experienced while at work.
- They should learn to create time for exercise, therapies, social activities, learning new hobbies, socialize with others outside your work area or profession, reading and signing up for courses that would be beneficial to them and their career.
- Strict policies should be put in place to protect all employees, not only nurses, from physical and emotional abuse from either colleagues or clients. This is a major contributor to occupational stress experienced by employees. Nurse should likewise speak up when they are abused, undervalued and disrespected.
- Suitable alternatives should be discussed about to reduce nurse burnout during shifts.
Finally, self-care is important for a nurse in order to function well in their capacity. They deserve it. Yes, they deserve the same therapeutic care they give to their clients and patients. It’s high time nurses start getting the respect and value they deserve for all their magnanimous and selfless humanitarian jobs. Once again, I commend the World Health Organization (WHO) for declaring the Year 2020 as “THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE NURSE AND MIDWIFE”.
I hope it ushers in a decade of tremendous progress in the advancement of nursing practice and healthcare in general.
By: Tega Erokaire; a Nursing Student of the prestigious Department of Nursing Sciences, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is a budding writer and enjoys writing on topics relating to health and nursing profession.