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Forgotten heroes must take care of their own mental health

Photo: Health Times
As a profession, nurses are already under considerable pressure, so when health crises break out, such as the unprecedented COVID-19, their stress levels can skyrocket.

Not only do nurses worry about their own wellbeing, along with that of their family and friends, there are additional concerns about infection within the hospital, and the potential impact that may have on them while serving others.

The ripple effect can result in a hit to their mental health, as a result of compounding concerns that flow on from the threat of the virus itself.

“Nurses carry their patient’s health and welfare with heightened responsibility during times of stress,” says Psychotherapist, Dr Karen Phillip.

“The additional hours required to work, lack of quality time with family and children, fear of contracting the virus and the pressure to always be at their best can take a damaging toll on our nurses,” says Dr Phillip.
Having seen an influx in patients from the nursing field, Dr Phillip says nurses are fearful for themselves, their patients and their colleagues, along with the potential consequences should the virus spread at rates seen internationally.

“Nurses, all medical staff, want to preserve life,” says Dr Phillip.

“If the virus escalates and there is not enough respirators and ICU to cope, the only option is selection those who have the highest chance of survival.

“Unfortunately, this is often not the aged population.

“Nurses will not be choosing, that is the doctors call; however, it is the nurses accountable for advising family of the decision and comforting the ill patient perhaps until pending death.

“This is a considerable weight for any nurse to confront.”

On top of these concerns, nurses also face the prospect of increased workload, which can also play havoc with mental health.

“As the coronavirus expands within the population, nurses will be the front line of workers needed.

“There is talk of cancelling leave, calling in retired nurses and using student nurses to cope.

“The load on them to continue working is enormous as they will be so needed.

“Many family members will also carry a load of fear and additional work while their nurse family member is working extra long hours under challenging conditions.”

Dr Phillip says it’s important for nurses to be proactive when it comes to mental health and seek out professional support services.

“All nurses should be receiving counselling to debrief, thus enabling them to remain focused and available.

“Ongoing counselling allows nurses to unload, burn off steam, their fear and concerns all in a safe environment, without judgement.

“Nurses do a fantastic job and always try to remain strong and healthy; however, sometimes they need care as well.

“They need a break, need to unload, and need to voice their feelings safely without any judgement from others.

“Nurses need a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings to allow them to relieve their stress and anxiety and reduce the impact of their emotions.”

But sometimes, things do get out of hand, and it’s critical that nurses can recognise the signs of mental burnout.

“When nurses dread going to work or fear going to their workplace, are not sleeping, feel continuously tired, are cranky, or showing signs of high emotion, these all point directly to taking time off and obtaining counselling to debrief immediately.

“Burnout is a big part of becoming overwhelmed and anxious.

“All nursing staff have to be considered and treated with kindness and consideration.

“Nurses are our front line and are facing this COVID-19 front on.

“They can’t sit around inside, work from home or go on a holiday; they are there to protect and care for others and too often sacrificing themselves.

“Nurses are our forgotten heroes in this pandemic.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.