The occupational stress associated with the nursing profession is a problem. More nurses are experiencing depression and anxiety, caused by their jobs. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI), nurses experience clinical depression at twice the rate of the general public. Depression affects 9% of everyday citizens, but 18% of nurses experience symptoms of depression. That’s right, almost 20% of nurses experience symptoms of depression!
Nursing and mental health
Nursing is difficult. It is fast-paced and requires tremendous amounts of focus, energy, and responsibility–making nurses more prone to depression. The infamous “culture of survival” amongst the nursing profession is intimidating. Working short-staffed; pulling long hours; being verbally and physically abused by patients; and hearing the whistles and bells of call lights and machines, for 8-16 hours can weigh heavily on even the strongest and most experienced nurse. Nurses often feel they are always under pressure, making the work environment tense. A depressed nurse may find it more difficult to concentrate, communicate, manage time, and critically think–all of these factors are detriments to mental health. They can cause a delay in patient care, medication errors, lapses in nursing judgment, etc.
Many nurses also struggle with anxiety. Remember starting your first IV, as a new grad? Ever had to float to a unit that you haven’t worked, in a while–or maybe even never? Have you had to perform a skill that you were not 100% confident you could achieve? Were you nervous, anxious even? Many nurses -even veteran nurses- still get anxious at the thought of communicating with a physician or family member. Anxiety can cause feelings of nervousness, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentration, and of course panic attacks. Feeling the weight of the world on his or her shoulders from management, physicians, patients, and family members can easily place any nurse under an insane amount of pressure during intense situations.
We all need a break. No matter how much you love your job; how well you perform; how much of a difference you feel you are making–we all need to take some time, to care for our mental health. If you are not at 100%, you cannot adequately care for your patients. Self-care is equally as important as being compliant with your blood pressure medication or insulin. So, when should you take a mental health day?
4 reasons to take a break
- Distraction. When you’re distracted -whether work-related or not- you should promptly tackle the situation. It is easy to be at work, yet have your focus elsewhere. Taking a day or two away from the stresses of your job can be helpful in regaining control of your wellbeing.
- Neglect. Like batteries, we need to be charged. Our minds and bodies often need boosts of energy. If you have been neglecting yourself, use a mental health day for some self-care. Go to the spa, get that massage you’ve been delaying, shop, visit that family member or friend whom you’ve missed. Take this time to do something for yourself.
- Appointments. Just as we educate our patients, nurses need to be proactive. Take a mental health day (or two) to visit your physician, therapist, counselor, spiritual leader, etc. Taking time off to address your mental health needs is instrumental in helping you function at your best.
- Physical Health. The World Health Organization (WHO) states, “there is no health without mental health.” Poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical ailments. When your mental health begins to affect your physical health, you should definitely use a mental health day to care for yourself. Neglecting your mental health can lead to serious health complications such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
- Gastronomical problems
- Premature death
We’ve all heard the adage “pressure makes diamonds.” This is not the case when it comes to the mental health of nurses. It has become expected that a nurse should work well under pressure. That is irrational and not a safe expectation. Taking a mental health day can be beneficial in reducing some of the occupational hazards nurses face daily. I firmly believe if we save nurses we will save healthcare.