As the nation struggles through the health, social, and economic upheaval of the COVID-19 crisis, nurses are at the crux of it all. As nurses cope with the physical and emotional impact of working with so many critically ill patients and in conditions that often threaten their own well being, they are simultaneously juggling worries about their families and loved ones. The toll on the nation’s nurses has been steep and many are feeling the effects of mental health struggles with burnout, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of mental health struggles, there are resources available to help. It’s always said that you can’t effectively help others until you take care of your own needs and that is especially relevant for nurses right now. It also poses a dilemma as many nurses barely have time to eat or sleep with the schedules they are keeping and the demands being placed on them. In that kind of situation, it can seem impossible to try to get help for yourself when you have no time to have a thought.

But it’s important. As nurses have supported this country through the crisis that is still unfolding, they will continue to see a need for their services. The COVID-19 crisis is not going away for many months, possibly longer, and nurses need all the support they can get to make it through.

If you’re a nurse and you’re noticing signs of depression or anxiety in yourself or your colleagues, acknowledging that support is needed and warranted is the first step. If you’re personally experiencing symptoms, prioritize times when you can fit that kind of support into your schedule, so that you can find the help when you can access it. If you’re a manager, make sure your employees know how to recognize when they could use help and have the resources to access it. Many organizations offer free counseling as part of their health insurance plans, so that’s also an option to investigate.

Here are some resources:

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, feel in danger of hurting yourself, or need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

American Nurses Association offers specific resources for nurses who are experiencing mental health distress of any level.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can help you understand some of the typical treatments available to help.

Mental Health America offers specific tips for those experiencing COVID-19 stress and for first responders.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has brochures and fact sheets for education and awareness of many symptoms and how they are best treated.

The World Health Organization has information on how policies are shaping priorities around nursing and mental health.

MentalHealth.gov can help you determine if you’re experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The personal risk of ignoring the signs of mental distress is particularly significant for nurses. To have the very people the nation is leaning on continue doing a herculean job without help for their own struggles is unacceptable. There needs to be time and resources for nurses to get the help they need and to unburden themselves of the intense and unrelenting stress they have experienced.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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