Depression: A silent epidemic for nurses

Nurses suffer depression at twice the rate of the general population. However, even though they have studied mental health as part of their training, many nurses are not even aware that the daily distress they are feeling are signs of depression, according to Minority Nurse.

Signs and symptoms of depression in nurses often go overlooked and accepted as part of the stressors of working in the healthcare profession, according to the article. The attitude that "nurses don't crack" and a culture of constantly hiding one's emotions only ends up causing the problems of depression and anxiety to multiply and in the end can compromise patient safety and drive good nurses out of the profession, the article notes.

Depression occurs in approximately 9 percent of the population, according to a 2012 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative. Nurses, however, suffer rates of depression at 18 percent. The findings came about as part of a study on how musculoskeletal pain and depression in nurses affect patient care and productivity. The cost? An average of nearly five sick days and 11.5 days of lower productivity per depressed patient over three months, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars every year.

Nursing as a culture is notoriously ruthless, stressful and high-pressure, according to the article. Ironically in healthcare, often mental and emotional illness are placed low on patients' priority list. When caregivers are trained to identify and treat only what they can see, hear and touch, problems like depression and anxiety are de-emphasized as clinical causes. Too often, caregivers extend this attitude to themselves, Minority Nurse reports.

"Depression is like a cardiac disease: you don't know you have it. You don't realize the subtleties," Louise Weadock, R.N., founder and president/CEO of ACCESS Healthcare Services, told the publication. "Leaders need to create a culture that lifts nurses up. It shouldn't be a culture in which only the strong survive. Nurses should not be proud of eating their young. Some managers brag, 'If you can make it on my floor, you can make it anywhere.'"

Nurses at a high-risk of depression and burnout are often more compassionate and empathic. Some hospitals and healthcare institutions have made fighting burnout among doctors and nurses a top priority, but there is still more that can be done. 

Some programs for nurses explore mindfulness meditation as a means of reducing and managing stress. Other programs connect nurses to the creative arts to help them explore and express their emotions. Some hospitals and healthcare providers emphasize that nurses should take self care just as seriously as they take patient care. 

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