Mental health is a pressing issue among both nursing staff and the patients that they look after. Poor mental health can lead to a whole host of other issues if left ignored and untreated. That is why it is important to combat the problem at root instead of allowing it to fester and grow into something entirely unmanageable. This article focuses on the ways that nurse professionals can nurture their own mental health needs and those of their patients.
Focus One: Personal Mental Health Needs
The first focus shall be on the personal mental health needs of nursing staff. It is a fairly common occurrence amongst this type of healthcare professional to suffer from issues like depression, anxiety, and burnout. The risk factors will always be there and in fact, some level of low mood is normal in any role. However, there is a question of how to combat them before they take hold and become a major issue.
Burnout is when a person has been pushed beyond their limits and is no longer functioning in any recognizable capacity. They cannot perform their professional duties properly and are prone to mistakes, sometimes serious ones too. They might even be withdrawing from social circles, family, and other relationship commitments. Self-care is probably on the back burner at this point, with things like personal hygiene often being ignored and looking after the home as well.
Owing to the highly demanding schedule of nurses, such as the long shift patterns, demanding job elements, high-pressure patient care, and lack of work-life balance, they are at high risk of burnout. To stop burnout from occurring, there are a few things that can be put in place:
- A proper, real break between shifts in order to recoup and relax with downtime.
- Engagement with social aspects – seeing friends and family, doing recreational activities for enjoyment.
- Proper sleeping patterns that work around job commitments.
- Look after personal hygiene through showering/bathing and general self-care regimes.
- Recognizing the red flags and slowing down when necessary.
Anxiety is a fairly common mental health issue that arises when a person is over-tired, overworked, or has no space to nurture important lifestyle factors. Worrying about the impact of your role, about patients, about balancing everything – these are all relevant to nursing staff and a typical part of the role. Anxiety is a very real, very relevant issue that should not be taken lightly or dismissed. There are routes forward including CBT, social talking groups, self-care, and nurturing sleep patterns. It is exacerbated by exhaustion, societal pressures, and demanding schedules and though, these things can’t always be avoided there are ways forward. Because anxiety can infiltrate everything, it becomes important to combat it on all fronts. Recognize the signs and respond appropriately. People with anxiety may suffer from:
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble processing information and focussing
- Heart palpitations
- Panic attacks
- Feelings of overwhelmedness
Remember this does not just have to be accepted as the norm and there are ways to combat and relieve anxiety symptoms with the proper support.
Nurturing Health-Focussed Habits
Diet, exercise, hygiene, social outings, and mental health practices; these are all things that should and must be at the forefront of the collective nursing mindset. Though it is normal to have social circles outside of work, the focus on protecting mental health and healthy habits should also be a dominant concern inside the workplace too. Staff supporting other staff is paramount to a happy, healthy, and socially acceptable work environment.
Regular training programs on how to support one another are an easy thing to implement. The focus should be on how to eat properly in order to combat obesity and physical health issues caused by it, how to incorporate exercise into an already hectic lifestyle and routine, and how to engage socially with a lack of time working against you.
Though the last thing that anyone with a busy and demanding work schedule may feel like doing is exercise – there are actually some undeniable benefits. A simple and short exercise mantra can release that all-important endorphin kick in the brain and increase motivation, good mood vibes, feelings of self-worth, and personal achievement. Aside from the mental side of things, exercise is obviously beneficial for managing weight and the other physical health needs of the body. A proper diet is one that is balanced and free from excessive sugary snacks – aka quick hunger fixes. These are the downfall of any busy working professional and nurses are no exception. Healthy eating can be promoted in the workplace by implementing healthy recipes in the cafeteria and providing informative content to staff.
We are in no way suggesting that all vices should be avoided always. However, excessive intake in things such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and other recreational illicit activities are often increased in stressed-out individuals. They are only ever detrimental to health both physical and mental and should be avoided or managed in a way that promotes health and safety across the board. For example, enjoying an alcoholic beverage in a social setting with a group of friends after a heavy shift is perfectly fine. Whereas going home and drinking a bottle of whisky is not and can cause significant problems in the long run.
Instead of getting a quick stress fix from a cigarette, try a health-kick snack or chewing gum. These, though not as appealing in the first instance, are actually more endearing overall as the immediate benefits are noticeable too. There is no good outcome to smoking, as is heavily advertised across the board, and while the reasons may be perfectly understandable, it is a habit definitely worth avoiding. Plus, nicotine addiction only increases anxiety symptoms and intensifies mood swings, irritability, and even nocturnal issues as well. Therefore, try and avoid bad habits by throwing yourself into alternative, good-health focussed activities such as yoga, smoothies, and exercise.
Moving Forward instead of Staying Still
Feeling at a standstill in your professional life can be a major factor when it comes to declining mental health. A lack of progression can in turn create feelings of resentment, doubting self-worth, declining self-esteem, and declining motivation to turn up day in and day out. There is little room to grow in nursing without first gaining further education and practical studies. One path to choose is online study, such as this Wilkes PhD in Nursing course.
Online courses are typically more flexible in their approach to learning, can be fitted in around pre-existing commitments more easily, and are generally more suited to those already established in a profession. A Nursing PhD course can further your education but also your prospects and, therefore, enable a greater sense of achievement with regards to work life as well.
Focus Two: Patients’ Mental Health Needs
Alongside the needs of the staff, there are also the mental health issues of the people that they look after on a daily (or nightly) basis. Though these are vast, they are also important and no issue is too big to tackle when it comes to promoting proper care and maintaining professional standards.
Recognizing the Signs
In order to promote healthy habits concerning mental health in patients, nurses must be able to recognize the signs of a downfall. There are many tell-tale shows that can vary from patient to patient with regard to factors such as age, background, health conditions, living circumstances, education, family, and general history. Some warning signs that can be universally clocked are:
- General low mood.
- Lack of engagement.
- Sense of fear, or general nervousness.
- Rudeness or Stand-offish behavior.
- Crying and displays of emotion.
Of course, every patient is different. However, if your particular person is displaying any of these signs then a further dive into their mental health needs may be required. With the right medication and support, mental health can directly impact physical health and recovery prospects, as the two exist somewhat synonymously.
Mental health needs are often overlooked in the senior population generally. This is an error and should be corrected. Senior people have just as many, if not more, psychological needs as the younger population. Conversely, just because a person is old, does not mean that they are more prone to poor mental health. Psychological issues are a case by case, person by person things and there is no written rule that can be applied universally.
Seniors, typically aged 65 and above, can suffer from depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and other issues as they near the end of life. Targetting and recognizing these issues can enable a better, more intuitive care plan and ensure that the patient is getting what they need as opposed to having things consistently missed. Depression that has gone unnoticed can increase the risk of further complications and incite a lack of engagement with physical care needs. The signs are easy to spot – so don’t miss them.
- Check for low mood.
- Lack of engagement in daily activities.
- Lack of engagement with social commitments such as seeing friends or family.
- An aversion to food or drink.
- Trouble sleeping.
Seeing mental health in younger patients can take its own mental toll on nursing staff, or indeed any person involved in their care. Though this issue is a tough one, it is also a very real and very relevant one in today’s society. Psychological issues amongst the younger generation are increasing almost exponentially. Suicide attempts have gone up by more than 10% in the last decade, especially among young males. Therefore, this is going to be an issue that nurses come across – there is no avoiding that fact.
It can be mentally draining and distressing to see youth in need in such a way but it is important to understand how to properly support and stay, to a certain degree, as detached as possible. A large part of nursing is creating a personal connection with patients to enable them to feel properly looked after and cared for. By establishing a rapport with a young person in crisis, you can be the person that makes a difference. But it doesn’t always work out for the best, and it is also important to mentally prepare for this eventuality.
The Personal Mental Toll
Caring for patients with extreme needs is inevitably tiring and it leads us right back to the point of promoting self-care within the nursing community. Though social circles outside of work are important, having someone who intimately understands the daily toll can also be beneficial and that is why there is value in finding friends amongst fellow nurses in the wider community. Though work does not always have to be the topic of discussion and certain confidentiality protocol prohibits the external discussion of patient particulars, that isn’t to say that work-related subjects cannot be hashed through in a social setting.
The personal mental toll of working in the nursing setting is a heavy one and is not to be taken lightly. There are specific needs that are a natural consequence of this line of work that cannot be put into other workplace settings. Therefore, recognizing and acknowledging the importance of these factors in place of accepting them blindly and attempting to power through are all good ways to move forward and find a better balance.
Overall, this is a very demanding job. There are pulls left, right, and center that can make a nurse feel stretched in various directions with no place to land for a rest. Despite this, it is of utmost importance that any person in this professional setting does find time to look after personal needs in order to properly care for their patients. Without the right legs to stand on and general awareness, mistakes are more likely to occur within the work environment, which can lead to issues for patients and fellow staff members. Though the job is heavy, it is rewarding and there is always room to move forward and balance everything with some forethought and proper self management.