Advice and development

Don’t neglect your mental health – it’s time to be kind to yourself

Nurse training can take its toll, so learn techniques to improve your mood and performance
Illustration of self-care

Nurse training can take its toll, so learn techniques to improve your mood and performance

Pursuing a career in nursing can involve many challenges and sacrifices, and while growing professionally is exciting and rewarding, nurse training can be mentally difficult at times.

As nursing students, we devote so much of ourselves to others that we sometimes neglect our own needs. I often put others before myself, and although selflessness is a valuable quality, it should not come at the expense of our own mental health and well-being.

Myriad pressures of nurse training can affect mental health

Nurse education programmes can be tough, with many students juggling clinical placements, university work, finances and family life. The long hours, deadlines and lack of a social life can soon take their toll on our mental health, exacerbating stress and anxiety issues.

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Nurse training can take its toll, so learn techniques to improve your mood and performance


Picture: iStock

Pursuing a career in nursing can involve many challenges and sacrifices, and while growing professionally is exciting and rewarding, nurse training can be mentally difficult at times. 

As nursing students, we devote so much of ourselves to others that we sometimes neglect our own needs. I often put others before myself, and although selflessness is a valuable quality, it should not come at the expense of our own mental health and well-being.

Myriad pressures of nurse training can affect mental health

Nurse education programmes can be tough, with many students juggling clinical placements, university work, finances and family life. The long hours, deadlines and lack of a social life can soon take their toll on our mental health, exacerbating stress and anxiety issues.

This can lead to negative self-perception and self-doubt, making us believe we cannot cope, which can affect our memory, problem-solving abilities and academic performance.

The benefits of being kind

Many people will be affected by mental health problems at some point in their lives. Being aware of when things may be breaking down is vital so that we can act on this and, most importantly, be kind to ourselves.

The death of TV presenter Caroline Flack, who took her own life earlier this month, came as a huge shock to many, sparking further awareness of mental health issues and the need for us all to be kinder to each other.

Cases of suicide in nursing

There have also been numerous reports of nurses and nursing students who have died by suicide, including Lucy de Oliveira who was in the second year of her nursing degree when she took her own life in 2017 after experiencing depression. A study from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published that year, revealed that the risk of suicide among female nurses is 23% higher than the national average.

Nurse Laura Hyde died by suicide in 2016. According to ONS data, she was one of 51 nurses known to have died by suicide or ‘undetermined intent’ in England and Wales that year. 

Following Ms Hyde’s death, her cousin and aunt, the latter of whom is a mental health nurse and occupational health specialist, set up the Laura Hyde Foundation. This provides mental health support for nurses and campaigns for greater recognition of mental ill health among healthcare staff.

If, like me, you experience mental health problems, relapse can sometimes be unavoidable. During these dark and unpleasant times, we must remember that we are valued, and that our own personal stories and struggles are likely part of the reason we chose to enter nursing.

Practise self-care and self-awareness

Nursing is an emotionally demanding profession and feeling stressed and exhausted is not uncommon among nursing staff. I’m sure many of you will agree that we are the worst at practising what we preach, but self-care is paramount if we are to look after ourselves and our own mental health.

Exploring techniques and self-awareness strategies that positively improve our mood and performance is vital, especially as our well-being can have a direct impact on the patients we care for.

The Going Home Checklist from mental health charity Mind, which is used widely in the NHS, is a great tool for encouraging reflection and mindfulness at the end of a working day.

Taking care of your mental health

  • Acknowledge how you are feeling: Recognising that you are struggling or feeling overwhelmed is the first step towards managing any difficulties you may be facing. Reflect on why you are feeling this way – have you felt like this before? What has helped/not helped in the past?
  • Practise gratitude: Think about things you are grateful for and learn to acknowledge your strengths rather than focusing too much on things that may have gone wrong. Nursing is a life-long learning process, and we are all here to support and learn from each other.
  • Communicate your feelings: Talking to someone close about how you are feeling is a great way to combat stress and alleviate anxiety. Talking to your fellow students can also be highly beneficial – they will likely have experienced similar emotions and may be able to offer advice on how to overcome them.
  • Take time off: Mental health problems should have equal parity with physical health problems. If you are feeling unwell in any way, taking time off is perfectly okay.
  • Make time for yourself: Although difficult at times, it is vital to make time for family, friends and other social activities. I have hobbies and friends outside of my nursing studies, which are particularly beneficial when I am feeling stressed.


Sources of help and support 

  • If you, or anyone you know, has been affected by the issues in this article, call Samaritans for free on 116 123. The helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • If you are a nurse or nursing student experiencing a mental health problem, you can contact the RCN’s confidential counselling service on 0345 772 6100

Francesca Hufton is a second-year mental health nursing student at Canterbury Christ Church University

She would like to thank her personal academic tutor Joel Petch, and current practice assessor Gavin Jackson, for their continuous support, understanding and encouragement

     

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