What can Healthy Nurses Do?

 In Mental Health Wellness and Stress

Dear Healthy Nurses,

Let’s take a moment to revisit the definition of mental illness. It refers to a “wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors” (Mayo Clinic, 2015).  One can suffer from more than one mental illness at a time. Mental illnesses may require long-term or lifelong treatment with medication and psychotherapy. Sometimes treatment simply entails regular visits to a mental health professional long enough to gain coping strategies and put them into practice.

We’re nurses. We know this. But did you know that multiple prospective cohort studies in different countries are showing us that when we screen people regularly throughout the life span, the probability of experiencing some type of mental illness by adulthood can be as high as 80%. That’s more than the chance of acquiring diabetes, heart disease or any type of cancer (Reuben & Schaefer, 2017). Yet why don’t we always seek help when we are very depressed or anxious, have difficulty coping, or notice ourselves having more drinks than usual after work? One of the most important reasons is mental illness-related stigma. It’s been identified as a major barrier to accessing treatment and recovery and has been described as a problem of culture in the healthcare sector, “where staff are often discouraged to openly discuss their own mental health issues or seek help for psychological problems” (Knaak, Mantler & Szeto, 2017). Stigmatization can cause reliance on self-treatment, alienation and judgment by co-workers after disclosure and a greater risk of suicide (Knaak et al., 2017). “Not me!”

So what does all of this have to do with being a Healthy Nurse?

In the same way that Healthy Nurses should know how to empower during moral crisis and understand the steps to avoiding moral distress, they should also understand and recognize the symptoms of mental illness in themselves and those around them.Healthy Nurses can lead the way by creating awareness of stigma (www.curestigma.org) and help to end it by promoting the understanding that mental illness does not discriminate. With the right help things can improve.

Getting adequate rest and regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and finding a support system are all ways to help build resilience, but when things get to be too much, it’s time to call in a professional. When we need to reach out for help we should do so without reservation, in the same way we would for a chronic headache. We should aim be good listeners and when necessary, encourage others to seek professional help as well.

Sometimes the Game of Life gives us more than we are capable of handling…but it doesn’t mean that we are weak. We just need some help to get back in the game!

***Remember to take quiet time for yourself during the busy holiday season. Stay tuned for some great advice on healthy eating for the upcoming holidays and colder months!***


Lisa Ertle, RN, B.A. and the Healthy Nurse, Healthy New Jersey Team



Reuben, S., & Schaefer, J. (2017, July 14). Mental Illness is Far More Common Than We Knew. [Blog post] Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/mental-illness-is-far-more-common-than-we-knew/

Mayo Clinic (2015, Oct 13). Mental Illness. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/symptoms-causes/syc-20374968                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Knaak, S., Mantler, E., Szeto, A. (2017) Mental Illness-related stigma in healthcare: Barriers to access and care and evidence-based solutions. Healthcare Management Forum, 30(2): 111-116. Doi: 10.1177/0840470416679413.

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