Nursing is a challenging job on many different levels. Caring for patients can be exceptionally draining, especially in hospitals where the ratio of nurses to patients is less than ideal. In addition, nurses are often tasked with emotionally charged tasks, like working with terminal patients or speaking with family members about patients who may not survive. Many nurses work twelve or sixteen-hour shifts, and some even work nights, making it difficult to have a normal life when not on the job.
While nursing is certainly a rewarding career for those with the aptitude for it, it’s far from an easy job. And, unfortunately, a stressful job like nursing can lead to a propensity for mental health issues and substance abuse problems. Nurses that don’t have proper stress outlets may find themselves depressed, anxious, or tempted by drugs or alcohol to manage the pressures facing them. PTSD in nurses is also common, especially after loss of a patient.
The nature of nursing—a medical job in which professionals are expected to be responsible—also makes it unlikely that nurses facing issues will speak up. Some may feel as though being honest about problems will put their jobs at risk, while others may feel too ashamed or guilty to admit a need for help.
For nurses facing mental health or substance abuse, getting help is imperative. Support from a rehabilitation center can provide assistance in managing or overcoming issues, making it possible to live a safer, happier life and better manage the stressors of work.
Nursing Mental Health
Nursing is among the most stressful careers, particularly where job duties, compensation, and work-life balance are concerned. Physicians may work longer hours and make more critical decisions for patients, but they are very well compensated and generally more hands-off. Many of the actual caretaking tasks fall to nurses, many of whom have far more patients than they can actually manage due to staffing shortages. Many nurses are stretched thin, run ragged during shifts, and left stressed and anxious at the end of their long days. As such, substance abuse and mental health issues are far from uncommon.
Mental health issues affect many nurses. One study found that the suicide rate for nurses was 23 percent higher than the national average. Another found that depression affects 9 percent of the general population but 18 percent of nurses.
COVID-19 hasn’t done nurses any favors, either. Due to additional patient loads and fears of getting sick or getting children, spouses, and other family members sick, nurses are under more pressure than ever before. In addition, many nurses, particularly in areas of the country that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, may have watched countless patients die without being able to help—a tough thing to face for anyone. This has only increased the likelihood of ongoing issues for nurses, including PTSD.
Substance Abuse in Nursing
Substance abuse is a serious issue within nursing, similar to mental health challenges. As many as 10 percent of nurses may have substance abuse issues, a much larger number than the estimated one percent who are active in treatment programs.
Prior to the 1980s, admitting addiction issues at work could result in immediate termination, but today, many nursing boards have other pathways in place. In most hospitals, if a nurse speaks up before making a mistake on the job, they will be provided with access to treatment. However, if any patient care is compromised as a result of substance abuse, termination is highly likely—even if a nurse comes clean before problems are unearthed.
As there are no guarantees that reporting substance abuse will have a favorable outcome, many nurses are reticent to speak up about their own issues. In addition, some hospitals encourage nurses to turn in their colleagues who are showing dangerous behavior patterns, creating a paranoid or uncomfortable environment. Some nurses are more loyal to one another than upper management, leading to a culture in which nurses sweep warning signs under the rug rather than tattle on their friends and peers.
Resistance to Seeking Help in the Nursing Field
The nursing field clearly has issues related to mental health and substance abuse—issues that proper treatment could mitigate or resolve. However, many nurses are hesitant to speak up and get help.
Despite the role of medical professionals in treating mental illness and substance abuse, these kinds of issues are sometimes seen as a sign of weakness within the field. Doctors and nurses are expected to be in good health to take care of others, and the presence of mental illness or substance abuse can be a black mark on a nurse’s perceived ability to properly care for patients. And while medical professionals are supposed to be offered resources when in need of help, some hospitals and clinics may blackball or otherwise harm the careers of those who speak up.
This pattern is unfortunately not improving. When nurses stay silent, the true extent of issues can’t be known. Therefore, nurses who are affected often feel alone and like no one else understands, even though it’s likely that their peers are going through many of the same things. This leads to a vicious cycle in which nurses don’t seek help, and the ability to access care in the industry does not improve.
Steps to Getting Help
Nurses, even with their medical knowledge and potential for expertise in the fields of mental health and substance abuse, aren’t immune from facing these challenges themselves. Seeking treatment is therefore just as important for nurses as it is for those in any other profession.
However, it’s very important that nurses who choose to seek help do so in a facility that understands the pressures of nursing and can address issues at their core, rather than simply treat the surface symptoms. This can be a crucial factor in preventing relapse and seeing higher success rates overall. A nurse who leaves treatment without healthy coping mechanisms for managing the pressures of work won’t be prepared to return to the workforce in a safe and healthy manner.
Rather than choosing a treatment program on a whim, nurses are encouraged to choose a rehabilitation center than can focus on their unique career needs. At FHE Health, our physicians, nurses, and counseling staff understand the unique pressures placed on nurses and the care necessary to deep and lasting recovery. Contact us today to learn more.