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Nurses and depression

A new study found that nurses who work on busy, crowded units are more likely to suffer from depression. The study, which was published in the May 4 issue of Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, adds to the growing body of evidence linking nurses and depression.

Previous studies have found that 9.6% of full-time healthcare providers between the ages of 18 and 64 suffered a major depressive episode in the previous year, a rate slightly higher than the 7.0% national average for full-time employees. A number of reasons have been given for the increased rate of depression among healthcare providers, including:

  • Female gender. Depression is more common in women than in men, by a 2:1 ratio — and nursing is still an overwhelmingly female profession.
  • Sleep deprivation. Nurses work crazy hours, and those shifting shifts may increase the secretion of cortisol, a stress hormone related to depression.
  • Awareness. As healthcare providers, nurses may be more attuned to the symptoms of depression, and therefore more likely to seek help, leading to an increased number of nurses diagnosed with depression.
  • Personality. At least one study found that “helpers” — those empathetic souls who derive great pleasure or self-worth from helping others — are prone to depression.
  • Work Conditions.  The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry study found that staff on units operating at 95% capacity were twice as likely to take sick leave for depression as staff members on units operating at 85% capacity. And high demand coupled with little personal control can demoralize staff members and lead to depression. A study by the American Nurses Association found that 30% of nurses feel powerless to improve patient safety or care.

What do you think? Is depression more common in nurses? Why or why not?

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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.
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