Why Hospitals Should Increase Mental Health Support for Nurses
There’s no question that nursing is a stressful job; however, that stress comes with a price: mental health. Nurses — especially female nurses — are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders stemming from burnout and are at a significantly higher suicide rate than the rest of the population.
These issues were already a problem before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. However, during the pandemic, they skyrocketed. For example, a survey of 488 critical care nurses found that between October 2020 and January 2021, 44.6% of nurses had high/moderate levels of moral distress and burnout.
We might be entering a post-pandemic society, but healthcare workers are still feeling the sting of the pandemic, along with a worker shortage that adds to the stress and makes things even more difficult for nurses already burning the candle at both ends.
With that in mind, it’s more important than ever for hospitals to increase mental health support for nurses. So let’s take a closer look at some of the risks nurses face because of these issues and what hospitals can do to prioritize the mental well-being of their workers.
The Risks of Burnout for Nurses
Frontline nurses are especially susceptible to experiencing burnout and a variety of other mental health issues, including:
- Compassion fatigue
- Extreme stress
Nurses are also at risk of experiencing things like patient attacks and ethical dilemmas. These issues can all lead to exhaustion, fatigue, and even mental health problems that cause thoughts of self-harm.
Keep in mind that nurses aren’t immune to harmful coping mechanisms. It’s not uncommon for people to turn to drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous behaviors to deal with stress or feelings of depression and anxiety. For example, some will try to numb their mental health issues by drinking too much. Unfortunately, no matter how well-versed a healthcare professional is in how alcohol affects the body, the desire to feel better mentally often trumps that.
Support is needed to help nurses manage their mental wellness and encourage positive, healthy choices when life becomes overwhelming.
Addressing Mental Health: What Hospitals Can Do
So, what can hospitals do to boost mental wellness support for nurses? Shouldn’t a place dedicated to health and wellness focus on helping its most valued employees and patients?
While patient care will likely always come first for healthcare professionals, hospitals should work to create an environment that ensures every team member is mentally and physically prepared to do their job. That starts with leadership. There need to be strategies in place that prioritize mental wellness within the workplace. If you’re in a leadership position, ensure the mental health of your nursing staff is at the top of the agenda. Hosting your next outdoor leadership meeting can establish a culture focused on mental wellness. Some of the most significant benefits of hosting an outdoor gathering include the following:
- Improved mood
- Greater productivity
- Reduced stress
- More relaxation
Having an outdoor meeting can set the tone for your staff, letting them know the kind of environment you’re hoping to achieve within your facilities.
Nurse managers also need to have regular conversations with their staff. Something as simple as weekly check-ins can make a big difference in monitoring the mental wellness of a nursing team.
Finally, consider implementing a mental health team (or multiple teams) within the workplace. People specifically dedicated to monitoring and supporting the mental well-being of your staff can help everyone feel more comfortable and let them know they have a place to turn if they’re struggling. In addition, these teams can develop resiliency programs and support the overall mental health of every nurse on staff.
Encouraging and Providing Treatment
Hospitals aren’t typically known for providing extensive mental health treatment. However, that doesn’t mean your facility can’t work with local mental health providers and establish connections and relationships.
Nurses can benefit from different types of mental health support, including counseling and therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), intensive outpatient programs, and even pharmacological therapies help treat mental health conditions. Mindfulness and stress-reduction programs can also make a big difference — all of which can be done with the help of a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional.
If you’re in a healthcare network, connecting with mental health professionals is an easy way to provide instant resources to your nursing staff. But, even if you’re not, it’s worth it for hospitals to reach out to local providers and have a few lined up that your team can turn to when they’re feeling burnt out or overwhelmed with work.
Hospitals can do so much to increase support for the mental wellness of nurses, and much of it can be done with a few additions to leadership roles and by implementing effective programs. Now is the time to prioritize mental health in nursing before the healthcare industry loses even more quality workers who leave their jobs due to stress.
(This story originally appeared in DailyNurse.com.)