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Emergency nurse's trigger point shows mental health as important as physical health

We must support each other in coping with the accumulation of stressful events, which can penetrate a nurse’s professional armour, says Nick Castle

We must support each other in coping with the accumulation of stressful events, which can penetrate a nurse’s professional armour, says Nick Castle. 


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A nurse who provided emergency care in the aftermath of the Shoreham air crash has written a powerful article about the personal challenges he experienced in the days, weeks and months afterwards.

Anthony Kemp describes in the article, Reflections on personal psychological resilience arising from the Shoreham air crash in 2015, the distress that those exposed to such events endure before they are able to return to a healthy psychological state.

He provides some powerful insights into the at times overwhelming burden caused by the stress he experienced.

While a nurse may never experience a major incident, they do experience challenging and stressful situations. It is these stressful situations that can accumulate and penetrate a nurse’s professional armour.

‘A distressed nurse rushed out in tears’

To highlight the important messages contained in this article, I would like to expand on Anthony Kemp’s account with a reflection of my own.

While working in an emergency department I overheard a nurse shouting at a patient: ‘Grow up, it’s only a broken leg!’ As I entered the cubicle a distressed nurse rushed out in tears, leaving behind a puzzled patient.

It’s important to make clear that the nurse in question is beyond reproach and these actions were totally out of character. I found the nurse. She was bewildered by her actions, upset and generally ashamed.

As the nurse calmed down, she explained that she had just snapped. But why?

Emotional triggers

The nurse had only recently returned from a military deployment where she had seen people of a similar age to this patient with bilateral amputations. Her empathy bar had been raised to a point where a broken leg did not register. She was horrified, apologised to the patient and sought support from her military colleagues.

What do these two stories tell us? Essentially, it is that while one significant incident can result in a marked emotional trigger so can a range of experiences that just build up.

As clinicians, we must learn to support each other and understand that our work-based mental health is as important as our physical health.


Nick CastleNick Castle is head of professions/assistant executive director, Hamad Medical Corporation Ambulance Service, Hamad General Hospital, Doha, Qatar

 

 


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Mental health and staff well-being in the emergency department – RCNi articles

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