Expert advice

Workplace: Supporting nurses with work-related mental health issues

How can I support nurses with work-related mental health issues to better cope with their jobs?

Question: How can I support nurses with work-related mental health issues to better cope with their jobs?

Work-related stress, anxiety about performance and depression arising from a perceived inability to deliver better care are, sadly, on the rise. This affects more nurses than ever. Meanwhile, levels of staff absence due to poor mental health have increased in recent years.

As a steward it is essential for you to be aware of the potential challenges these health issues are likely to pose.

Nurses are usually unwilling to admit they are struggling, whether with workload, difficulties posed by lack of staff, their patient group or even their colleagues. They do their best to come across as strong, active and capable, thinking anything less would be failing patients, workmates or themselves.

This can result in ‘presenteeism’ when, despite feeling unwell, a nurse will come in to work because others are depending on him or her. Unfortunately, the fact that their judgement could be impaired while they are tired and stressed is overlooked.

Other nurses take recurrent sick leave, resulting in their managers seeking informal as well as formal meetings and issuing notices of performance and capability reviews.

Such meetings could prove a blessing in disguise, providing an opportunity to work with the manager to promote good practice and maintain staff wellbeing. The relationship between staff engagement, mental equanimity and patient safety can be identified. You can also ensure that staff receive ongoing support from occupational health services and their managers.

Nurses have to reflect on the state of their mental health and their ability to cope in difficult situations. The role and input of occupational health can prove critical in minimising sickness absence by identifying additional support, if it is indicated.

About the author

Zeba Arif

Zeba Arif (@ZebaArif) is chair of the RCN forensic nursing forum and was an RCN steward for 23 years

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