This May, Mental Health America will celebrate the 68th annual Mental Health Month. First established in 1949, Mental Health Month has been founded in order to spread awareness about mental health issues, and educate the public about the most common mental health problems in America.
There are many ways that MHA accomplishes this goal – advanced pre-screening tests, statistical information about the preponderance of mental health issues, and much more.
And though mental health issues aren’t as stigmatized among the general public as they used to be, there are still some areas where it’s somewhat taboo to openly discuss mental health problems – and this includes most medical facilities.
Most nurses don’t want to admit that they’re struggling with their mental health. Nurses are supposed to be caring, reliable, and strong – and it’s hard to admit when we’re suffering, especially if our problems are “just in our heads”.
But nurses struggle with mental health issues, too. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 5 most common mental health issues in nursing, as discovered by a 2013 study of ICU nurses.
- High Levels Of Workplace Stress – 83.9%
Being a nurse isn’t easy – especially if you work in an intensive care unit, emergency room, or another place where your decisions can make the difference between life and death. When that code button gets hit and you’re rushing toward a patient’s room – potentially holding their life in your hands – that’s a significant source of stress.
Nearly 83.9% of surveyed ICU nurses said that they regularly experienced high levels of workplace stress – and 10.7% said they experience moderate levels of stress during their work.
This is a big deal. Long-term, unrelieved stress can lead to physical ailments, and a much higher risk of developing another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.
Because of this, nurses should take steps to reduce their levels of workplace stress. Mindfulness exercises, meditation, and even consulting with a licensed psychologist are great ways to help you maintain a healthier mental state, and reduce your levels of stress in the workplace.
- Depersonalization – 60%
Depersonalization is very common among nurses, due to its association with prolonged levels of stress and anxiety. If you’ve ever pulled back-to-back double shifts, you’re probably well aware of what depersonalization feels like. You feel like you’re floating, like the actions you’re performing are being done by somebody else – like you’re in a dream.
If depersonalization is not addressed, it can lead to further mental deterioration. Depersonalization can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, especially when combined with sleep deprivation.
Steps that can be taken to address depersonalization include reducing workplace stress, addressing past trauma that could contribute to its effects, and maintaining healthy sleeping habits.
- Anxiety – 42.4%
Anxiety has a very high correlation with workplace stress. High levels of stress almost always lead to a greater preponderance of anxiety disorders – and the high-stress environment of a hospital can have an extremely damaging effect on the mental health of nurses.
It’s estimated that, in the general population, around 12% of people will suffer from an episode of an anxiety disorder during their lifetime – while in our study, nearly 42.4% of nurses had suffered from severe levels of anxiety during their work.
Anxiety can lead to a huge variety of negative symptoms, including depression, panic attacks, and an increased risk of substance abuse. The primary treatment for anxiety disorders – when diagnosed – is therapy, though antidepressants or beta blockers may be prescribed in severe cases.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – 24%
Despite recent campaigns to raise awareness about PTSD, many people still think of it as a “soldier’s disease”. And indeed, post-traumatic stress disorder is very common in soldiers – but PTSD can be triggered by almost any event that places a tremendous amount of physical or emotional strain on a person.
Our aforementioned study shows that nearly 24% of all ICU nurses show some signs or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. These levels are much higher than the general population – it’s estimated that around 9.5% of Americans will have an episode of PTSD during their lives.
PTSD can take many forms, and side effects of include increased anxiety, poor mood, and a more highly-developed “fight-or-flight” response. The main treatment for PTSD is cognitive-behavioral therapy, alongside SSRIs or other pharmaceuticals, in extreme cases.
- Depression – 11%
Nurses are around 3 times as likely to suffer from major bouts of depression, compared to the worldwide population. Depression is one of the most difficult mental health issues to deal with – especially for nurses – because so many people still don’t understand how dangerous and difficult depression can be to treat.
Depression is often a result of other mental health issues such as anxiety and stress. Prolonged levels of anxiety and stress can often lead to feelings of helplessness and despair – and if left untreated, these feelings can lead to major depressive disorder.
This is a big issue among nurses because so many of us feel reticent to express their feelings of sadness and depression, for fear of being seen as weak – or worse, unfit for duty.
Prevention is the best way to deal with depression. Because depression is often preceded by high levels of stress and anxiety, addressing these issues is a great way to stop major episodes of depression – before they start.
This Mental Health Month, Keep The Discussion Going In Your Workplace!
The study we’ve been looking at focuses primarily on nurses in high-stress jobs – the ICU and ER, for instance. But these issues can affect every nurse. Whether you work at a small physician practice, or you’re a night shift ICU nurse, you could be at risk of developing one of these mental disorders.
So you should be open about your mental health – and encourage others to do the same. The best way to destigmatize mental health issues in nurses is to talk about them openly and honestly. So keep the conversation going in your workplace, and work with your colleagues to promote better mental health among all hospital workers.