Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW
Edited by Joe DeNoon
If I had to guess, mental health struggles among healthcare professionals are one of the reasons you read my blog. There is no doubt that healthcare professionals see and work in distressing and possibly traumatizing environments every time they put on their scrubs, and this takes a toll on our mental health.
Please see the below visual for the statistics regarding mental health for healthcare professionals, as well as tips to prioritize mental health:
Graphic created by Mozzaz.
In my last blog, I discussed an article that provided statistics from 2019. These are more updated statistics, and, as you can clearly see, they are only getting higher. This pandemic has created an environment that has increased the trauma experienced by healthcare professionals across the board. A question I ask when looking at statistics like this is: how many professionals felt comfortable reporting their honest opinion? The statistics I look at the most for this are the reports of using substances to cope and the reports of considering suicide. Both of these have huge stigmas around them and can significantly affect jobs, so I am curious just how comfortable people felt being honest with these topics. Nurses and others can legitimately fear that they may lose their job if they are honest about how their mental health is affected by their work.
This is a terrible reality to discuss, because I would LOVE for everyone to not only have access to mental health support, but also feel they can access it without a fear of how it looks to our bosses and coworkers. I also believe this is a big reason why we avoid checking on the state of our mental health. When there is a stigma surrounding mental health needs, avoiding the fact that we have needs seems like the easiest thing to do in the moment, but it can have some long term negative effects, like burnout, more intense PTSD symptoms, or needing to leave the job completely to feel better. If we start normalizing mental health check-ins and then taking steps to help our mental health, then decreased burnout rates, more manageable PTSD symptoms, and having a long term career as a nurse may become more do-able. The question is: how can we normalize these topics and needs in the workplace? By talking about this, advocating, as well as normalizing mental health check-ins at the workplace.
Questions we should start asking ourselves and our co-workers:
- Did you get enough sleep?
- Have you eaten today?
- How much water have you had today?
- Do you have an exercise routine? If not, what kind of movement do you like?
- Have you talked with or reached out to people you love this week?
Mental Health check-ins are also a balance, all the above questions focus on the balance of our basic needs: sleep, food, water, movement, and connection. Are all of these in balance? Probably not. If that’s the case, we need to work to find ways to balance these needs. I know that, as a nurse, it is very hard to balance your needs when you are taking care of others’ basic needs. This is the reason why these questions hold such importance, because I am sure there are hours in the day where you don’t feel like you have a moment to check in with the fact you haven’t had a sip of water or a bite of food. It is essential to normalize and keep everyone accountable to meet their own needs throughout the day. If we start normalizing and asking these questions, it will become a part of our everyday routine to make sure we are getting water, eating food, and taking a bathroom break.
This will not stop the traumatizing events from occurring or PTSD symptoms, but meeting our basic needs will make managing symptoms and regulating our emotions throughout the day much easier. If we are not eating or drinking water AND running around all day, our bodies go into crisis mode, or hyperarousal. If this happens frequently, our brain will start associating these stressors of not meeting our basic needs with our work. This is then stored as a stressful experience, and every time we go to work, our body will automatically go into crisis mode, which increases our hyper-vigilance and impulsivity. It is essentially like our body is responding to a trauma every time we go to work. Meeting our basic needs is not just something everyone says is important; it is crucial to meet our needs to continue to do our jobs daily.
Mental health check-ins are such an important foundation to support our mental health, and while they do not make the traumatic experiences go away, they increase our ability to cope from day to day. Let’s all hold each other accountable to actually check our mental health, as well as making sure we are meeting our basic needs at work!