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Remote and regional nurses must prioritise their own mental health

Photo: Health Times Magazine
While extremely rewarding, the nature of the work involved with nursing can have an impact on mental health if proper self-care isn’t undertaken.

For nurses working in remote or regional communities, managing mental health can be even more challenging, and they’re faced with the additional strain of isolation.

“Working in a remote region can be extremely isolating,” says psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip.

“Nurses in remote locations may experience social factors, geographical isolation, professional isolation and cultural issues.

“While it is dependent on the type of work nurses undertake, unless they have a network of friends or family, professional and personal support, it can be very challenging.”

Working in a remote community presents its own set of challenges.
“Loneliness can create feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety. We are social beings and need connections with others.

“Working remotely may affect this opportunity to integrate, share and exchange feelings, thoughts and ideas. Diverse rur¬al con¬text and prac¬tice set¬tings can also result in isolation.

“Working as a nurse is demanding and challenging. Nurses see the best and worst of people’s experiences and lives.

“Sharing or debriefing is essential, however, many remote positioned nurses may struggle finding a suitable debrief service or person.

“Ongoing professional development and connection with supervisors is essential to provide a balance for all nurses.

“Nurses need time away from the rigors of their work demands and this can prove difficult in rural communities.”

Rural communities may suffer a range of mental health issues, not only due to isolation, but the added intensity of adverse weather events, such as droughts and floods that affect the community economically and mentally.

“Nurses are at the forefront of these issues when seeing patients,” says Dr Phillip.

“They take on a role of medical support, advisor, midwife, therapist, and confidante.”

Living in rural communities means socially you’re likely to be integrating with your patients.

“You know their issues, demons and conditions which all needs to remain confidential.”

Nurses in remote locations have to cope with their own experiences of isolation while needing to treat and counsel others experiencing chronic illness, medical complications, separation from family, isolation and other issues our rural communities experience.

In addition to the issues presented by distance and emotional isolation, nurses are also isolated from professional networks and peers.

“When we are isolated, we can have too much time to reflect within.

“Often our mind races and conjures up things of concern or as an escape from reality. In other words, we may future project negativity which can become dangerous to our mental health.”

Dr Phillip says inclusion within a professional network and educational framework would help to mitigate these factors and provide opportunities for collaboration between other rural health staff.

“Nurses can often suffer workplace stress from patients, work and personal demands and workplace pressures placed by colleagues.

“This, combined with isolation, can compound into a feeling of despondency.

“Rur¬al nurs¬es need to utilise a wide range of skills to man¬age patients across their lifes¬pan and to meet com¬mu¬ni¬ty needs, as many communities rely heavily on nurses for a wide range of issues, guidance and collaboration.”

By their very nature, many nurses take on the emotional stressors of their workday.

Dr Phillip says it’s crucial for nurses to have sufficient rest, appropriate supervision and debriefing.

“Find a person to speak with about the daily or weekly experiences and emotional burden experienced.

While people in rural and remote Australia experience mental health issues at the same rate as those in the cities, it can be more difficult to access health care and support services.

It’s important for nurses to access the wide range of online and telephone support services which can provide instant access to support.

“Regional nurses are incredible, dedicated and professional individuals. Support is needed to enable them to maintain their strength and dedication.”

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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.