News

Loneliness and mental health struggles at Christmas: staff urged to seek support

For nurses, winter pressures, shift schedules and workloads can contribute to mental health issues and affect well-being, but support is available from workplaces and other sources

Winter pressures, shift schedules and workloads can contribute to mental health issues and affect well-being, but support is available from workplaces and other sources

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many nurses Christmas can be a lonely period.

Christmas shifts can keep nurses from seeing friends and family. Add to that winter pressures and mounting workloads and the season can take its toll on nurses’ mental health.

Winter pressures can take their toll on mental health

RCN mental health professional lead Stephen Jones says with the pressures at this time of year, nurses need to be compassionate to themselves as well as others, taking steps to prioritise their well-being and seek help if

Winter pressures, shift schedules and workloads can contribute to mental health issues and affect well-being, but support is available from workplaces and other sources

Woman gazing out the window with a Christmas tree behind her
Picture: iStock

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many nurses Christmas can be a lonely period.

Christmas shifts can keep nurses from seeing friends and family. Add to that winter pressures and mounting workloads and the season can take its toll on nurses’ mental health.

Winter pressures can take their toll on mental health

RCN mental health professional lead Stephen Jones says with the pressures at this time of year, nurses need to be compassionate to themselves as well as others, taking steps to prioritise their well-being and seek help if they are struggling mentally.

‘We’re at work to care for other people, but we can’t care for other people if we don’t care for ourselves,’ he told Nursing Standard. ‘People should be encouraged to talk about their feelings with friends and family, health professionals and counselling.

‘We still have that stigma around mental health struggles, but sometimes counselling is just taking the step of speaking to someone who can help us with our own way of seeing ourselves and the world around us.’

NHS Charities Together chief executive Ellie Orton also encouraged nurses to check in with themselves and their colleagues. ‘Our latest research suggests two thirds of NHS staff have experienced problems with their mental health since the pandemic began – and loneliness is both a cause and a symptom of this mental health toll,’ she said.

‘If you are struggling it is important to reach out to talk about your feelings. Please know that however lonely you feel you are not alone.’

Reach out to support networks

Networks such as lived experience groups – for people who have experienced similar circumstances – provide a source of support, Mr Jones said. Those networks can be really powerful because you hear stories from different people, and you realise that you’re not alone.'

He also advised nurses to get involved in social groups or activities, adding that the pandemic has resulted in many prioritising work and neglecting their social lives.

Picture: iStock

‘As a workforce we’re burnt out and overworked, so people may have neglected or forgotten about those important things that they did,’ Mr Jones said. ‘With lockdown and new ways of living we sometimes haven’t been able to identify those outlets.’

Exercise and health eating support mental well-being too

Mental health struggles often mean people avoid exercise and healthy eating, while shift work can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, but Mr Jones stressed these are important factors to maintain good mental health.

He suggested speaking to line managers about flexible working to help manage loneliness and mental health struggles, setting goals for cooking healthy meals each week, and using tools such as apps to encourage exercise.

Where to seek help if you’re struggling

  • Speak to your line managers or workplace occupational health service about the support they can provide
  • RCN counselling services
  • Mind support services
  • Stand Alone – support for people who are estranged from their family or children
  • Samaritans –call 116 123. The Our Frontline service offers round-the-clock, one-to-one support for health and care workers, by call or text, plus resources, tips and ideas to look after your mental health

Nursing Standard well-being centre


In other news

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Nursing Management
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs