If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, dial 988 to reach someone withthe Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. They’re available 24 hours a day and provide services in multiple languages.
My heart broke after reading Tristin Kate Smith’s “Letter to her Abuser.” Smith was an emergency room nurse, but she also was a daughter, sister, friend, co-worker and most likely embodies a host of so many other meaningful roles to so many other people.
Unfortunately, like many other nurses across the country, Tristan was a victim of our broken health care system. Tragically, Tristan was pushed pass her breaking point at the age of 28.
According to researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and UC San Diego Health, Department of Nursing, nurses are at higher risk of suicide than the general population. And it goes without saying that our nurses are in serious need of support.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, health care workers face a mental health crisis: 46% of health care professionals reporting higher levels of burnout and poor mental health last year than before COVID-19.
Doctors cry, too.Our broken health care system hurts physicians and patients alike.
Similarly, in an American Nurses Foundation survey in May of more than 7,400 nurses nationwide, two-thirds said they’re suffering mental anguish or toxic emotions, and 56% said there is stigma as a health care provider to seek help.
What we’re learning here is that COVID-19 only magnified existing problems within the health care system. As our nation works to recover from the fallout of the pandemic, health care leaders and all levels of government need to pay particular attention to helping our burned-out nurses recover.
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Nurses are suffering from severe burnout
We continue to hear from nurses across the country reporting severe burnout from working long hours under stressful conditions, which results in increased fatigue, injury and job dissatisfaction.
As the backbone of the health care system and the first line of defense in patient care, nurses’ mental health and well-being must be a priority for employers and for all of us as patients.
We must remove the stigma associated with seeking mental health care in nursing. Nurses are up against a slew of chronic, unresolved but critical workplace issues that have persisted for years, such as unchecked workplace violence, forced overtime, barriers to practice and unsafe work environments, which lead to nurse turnover and under staffing.
Mental health toll on nurses causes lasting harm
All these unresolved issues take a considerable toll on nurses’ mental health and the damage done has lasting affects on nurses, some of whom will probably never fully recover.
The American Nurses Foundation joins national nursing organizations in calling for meaningful action in policy and legislation to provide healthier work environments, timely resources and to advocate for the prioritization of nurses’ mental health and wellness.
Seek mental health care:I’ve been avoiding my grief for years. Buying a home my dad won’t see made me address it.
We saw President Joe Biden take this step by singing into law the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which encourages nurses to seek support and care for their mental health. The foundation also is committed to doing our part by ensuring nurses have a hub of resources at their fingertips to align with the demands of health care delivery.
Yet, this is not enough. We need philanthropic partners to support a wholistic approach, including significant investments in the nursing profession to create sustained positive change.
It’s important to understand that the emotional wounds and trauma endured by nurses during the pandemic won’t heal overnight. But genuinely listening to nurses and their concerns is a great first start. We cannot afford to have any more of our nurses mirror Tristin’s tragic end.
Kate Judge is executive director of the American Nurses Foundation.