Addressing Minority Mental Health with Patient Education

Addressing Minority Mental Health with Patient Education

The Office of Minority Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, designates each July as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.  By calling attention to the specifics of mental health in minority communities, the awareness campaign helps spread information about the importance of good mental health practices, shares resources for finding help, and removes some of the stigma around seeking treatment for conditions including depression or anxiety.

As the COVID pandemic has retreated, many folks are left with lingering feelings of trauma, particularly in minority communities that were impacted more than others. Many people lost loved ones during the past few years and others are coping with the lingering health impacts of having had COVID or caring for those who did. The pandemic exposed glaring health disparities in which racial and ethnic minority patients had less access to high-quality health care, more severe illness, and higher numbers of severe COVID.

Beyond healthcare and within a society that has structural racism, the pandemic caused far-reaching impacts from a disease that upended employment, income, insurance coverage, childcare, transportation, and family structure. The long-term impacts of the trauma people experienced, and are still experiencing, is something that will influence minority mental health for years to come.

During Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, nurses can help spread information about the importance of good mental health by discussing it with patients. They can offer resources, talk about how mental health changes physical health, and normalize discussions around emotions and trauma.

Because nurses educate patients, they can call attention to symptoms that patients might associate with mental health struggles including

  • new or marked sadness or crying
  • changes in eating (too little or too much)
  • changes in sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or getting out of bed)
  • lack of interest in hobbies, relationships, work
  • thoughts of suicide

They can also verbalize symptoms that aren’t always recognized as symptoms of something like depression or anxiety including

  • anger and rage
  • increased substance use and abuse
  • new or increased compulsive actions (checking locks, food patterns)
  • unsafe activity (unsafe sex, driving recklessly, overspending)
  • feeling the worst is going to happen

Talking about minority mental health with nurses encourages patients to recognize their feelings, be attentive to changes, and understand that they aren’t alone. These efforts might not always seem significant, but nurses can keep in mind that their conversation about mental health might be the only time a patient discusses their concerns. Some minority communities have such a barrier to openly discussing mental health that it is a subject that is just never brought up.

When nurses identify symptoms, highlight resources, make connections for therapy or medication providers, and show support, patients feel seen and heard. Emphasizing that mental health is a physical condition and that effective treatment is available is a beacon of hope for people who are feeling like they aren’t sure what to do. Nurses can make a meaningful difference to patients with a caring conversation about minority mental health and some resources to get started.

Why Armchair Travel Is Good for You

Why Armchair Travel Is Good for You

No matter where you live, the depths of winter tend to bring out the armchair traveler in all of us. As new year’s resolutions to “do more” or “be better” begin to lose their luster and work or school responsibilities grind on, the idea of going somewhere–anywhere– becomes particularly appealing.

Even if you can’t get away right now, it’s never a bad time to begin planning where you might want to head to when the opportunity arises. Studies have shown that taking a vacation is good for your mental health, but planning a vacation also has its own benefits. When your brain switches to planning ode–or armchair travel mode–anticipating where you’ll go, what you’ll do, and even just thinking of being in a different setting can all flip a switch in your brain and get you out of the rut you might be in.

Why take the time to plan a vacation that’s far off or that you might never actually go on? Planning travel helps your brain imagine new places and motivates you to learn about other areas, other cultures, or other foods. It gives you an opportunity to see how others live and what’s important to them–all of which can inspire change in or gratitude for your own life.

Have you always wanted to spend a week exploring a mega city like New York, London, or Paris? What about a new place like Dubai? Would you rather dive deep into the history of Athens or Beijing? Or does something like the big sky of Montana or Canada hold an appeal? Any of those places can get you out of your typical pattern and learning about a place different from where you are.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a noticeable uptick in Twitter searches that included the words coastal, beaches, and escape. From the New England shipping ports like Portsmouth where you can take a harbor cruise to learn about the area’s maritime history to days spent exploring the Newport mansions and envisioning the lives of America’s barons, the possibilities for learning rich history focused on what interests you feeds the escapist need. Looking into staying in sunny Hawaiian islands or envisioning the blue Caribbean waters can actually serve to bring your stress levels down. Frequent studies show that getting out in nature is good for your health and you might notice your heart rate slows down a bit just thinking about it.

If you’re thinking of a place but don’t think you’ll get there soon, armchair travel helps you create the adventure at home in ways that are fun and let you feel a little escapism. Involve all your sense to heighten your experience. Try out local foods from the place you want to visit. You can try your hand at a new recipe or, if you’re lucky enough, you might have different restaurants nearby that offer different cuisine choices. Watch movies or shows based in the location you have in mind. Listen to music from the area or in a different language. Check out the endless choices of travel blogs, tourism websites, and books to find out about the cultures, traditions, and history.

When you’re ready to hit the road on your next adventure, you’ll be well prepared with information and excited to embark on something that’s new but not completely unfamiliar. In the meantime, all your armchair travel will have managed to give your mind a break and your mental health a boost.

Why Depression Screenings Are an Important Tool

Why Depression Screenings Are an Important Tool

Despite the increased focus on mental health over the pandemic, it’s not always easy to diagnose or recognize depression. When it’s something you are experiencing, it can be even tougher to see the bigger picture.

October 6 is National Depression Screening Day and offers an excellent opportunity to assess your own mental health by taking an online depression screening and learning more about depression. Depression can happen at any time and to any person regardless of their race, ethnicity, social status, income, lifestyle, location, family history, or previous mental health status. Sometimes depression is triggered by an event–a death, a divorce, a diagnosis, a job loss, a trauma. Sometimes depressive symptoms coincide with the changing seasons. Depression can also be brought on by genetics or by hormonal changes in pregnancy, menopause, or puberty. It can be fleeting, lasting less than a year, or it can be something a person manages throughout their lifespan.

Why do people need a depression screening? Because depression can look like a lot of other things. This condition can appear as individual bothersome symptoms that are easy to overlook or brush off. When seen collectively, it becomes more obvious that there’s something more serious going on. A depression screening gives that broader scope and opens the path for treatment options.

Many people recognize some of the more obvious symptoms of depression including feeling sad, having crying spells, or a lack of interest in many things they once loved. But other symptoms of depression are more difficult for people to recognize.

Less obvious symptoms of depression include

  • irritability and anger
  • generalized, persistent feelings of fatigue or being tired that are unrelated to amount of sleep
  • lack of focus
  • feelings of being unwell like stomach pains, muscle aches, headaches
  • trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • changes in eating–eating too much or not enough

What do these look like in real life? It can be as simple as noticing you are raising your voice at your kids or your partner. You might find yourself getting unusually frustrated at work when a colleague is late or a patient is challenging. It could be that the daily walks that used to give you energy and a sense of calm, have dropped off your activity list because you just can’t get motivated. Or you seem to have a pounding headache by the time your day ends–on most days. Taken individually, these might not seem to be anything but an unusual blip in life. But when any of these happen repeatedly or happen collectively, it’s a signal that something else is going on.

A depression screening is an excellent tool for nurses to apply to themselves or to patients or loved ones. Nurses can look more into depression assessments to see what kind of assessment is used in particular circumstances in the industry too. But simple depression screenings can help you recognize when you might need help to manage your symptoms.

Depression treatment can include talk therapy and medications for milder cases and more intensive treatments for moderate to severe depression. If you notice that you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or that someone you  love or someone you care for is, seeking additional help should be the next step.

Mental Health Resources for Nurses

Mental Health Resources for Nurses

So how’s your mental health?

A year ago, most of us thought COVID would be long gone or at least a much less of a threat by now. Widespread vaccine access was on the horizon, and it looked like an important corner was being turned. But COVID had other plans.


As 2022 dawns, nurses are feeling a squeeze that’s unbearable and caring for patients who are desperately ill. Patients who are coming in for routine care aren’t out of the woods, and the psyche of the nation is suffering.

As the pandemic drags on, physical and emotional exhaustion is rampant. When it gets too much, reaching out for help will bring you to a better place. Helps looks different for everyone, but understanding when and how to get it is exceptionally important.

If you are in a mental health crisis or know someone in crisis, please


For a comprehensive list of mental health resources check out the Mental Health First Aid website. You’ll also find excellent resources and information in the Well-Being Initiative of the American Nurses Foundation and its partners.

Here are some resources to help you. You can also read Minority Nurse’s Strategies to Maintain Your Mental Health as a Health Care Worker for additional advice on self care and well-being.

Professional help

Recognizing that you’re not feeling yourself and that you need helps is the first step. Mental health professionals offer excellent support. Talking with someone helps you get things sorted out and will give you an opportunity to talk about everything that is weighing on you. Finding a therapist is difficult right now, but keeping up the search is worthwhile as it can bring back some balance to your life. And you don’t have to commit to a big schedule–find what works for you , even if it is just once or twice a month. If your employer offers an employee assistance plan (an EAP), find out if you have short-term access therapists for no cost.

To find a therapist, ask your insurance company who is accepting new patients or use this online tool to help you find someone in your area.


For some people, talking helps but they also need medication to manage the imbalance in their brain chemistry. Have you tried medication and didn’t find the relief you were hoping for? It can take a few tries with different medications to get the right results. Medication management requires a  comprehensive approach to consider other medications you’re taking, conditions you have, your response to the drug. Don’t give up.

Faith community

Community and faith leaders are often looked to as pillars of support in times of crisis, and faith communities are frequently excellent supports and resources for those in struggling times. If you have a person in your life who can act as a confidant while also offering the reassurance that matches your beliefs, then maintaining that connection can give you the comfort and guidance you’re seeking. If a prayer group or a meditation group gives you solace, make sure attend whenever possible.

Family, friends, furry companions

The pandemic is affecting each of us in a different manner. Your family and friends might not understand the things you do and see every day at work, but they will recognize that you are struggling. If you have close, dependable family and friends, lean on them for companionship or comfort. If you have a pet, they can offer great solace without any judgment at all. They also are often highly tuned into your moods so just having them close by feels good. If you aren’t able to get a pet but would like to interact with animals more, pet shelters always need volunteers.


Find what makes you feel calmer with a goal of just taking care of yourself and relieving your stress. Nurses take care of so many other people and often forget the very basic need for self care. Exercise, meditation, faith practices, or being in nature are all excellent ways to lower your blood pressure and keep you moving forward. But making time for other things that make you feel good count too– binge watching movies, cooking, puzzles, crafts, coffee with friends, video games, a book club night, skateboarding, or  spending a day exploring a new place–if it helps you feel some relief, do it.


How Becoming an Addiction Treatment Nurse Rekindled My Love for Nursing

How Becoming an Addiction Treatment Nurse Rekindled My Love for Nursing

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an overwhelming toll on nurses. We’re exhausted and burned out and some of us are even suffering from PTSD. Once lauded as heroes on the frontlines, medical staffs are now feeling overworked and underappreciated. Some are even considering quitting their jobs in droves, which could create a secondary health crisis as hospitals struggle to handle a surging patient load with dwindling staff.

I know these feelings all too well because I’ve lived them. Nursing has been not only my career for the last 21 years, but it’s a part of my identity. I come from a family of nurses—my mother, aunt and cousins have all worked in the profession.

Since becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at 18, I’ve worked in almost every direct care setting: long-term care, home health, hospice, etc. Since earning my master’s in nursing education, I’ve also served as an adjunct professor for the Jersey College School of Nursing. I’m now working toward a doctorate in nursing practice.

It may sound trite, but nearly 20 years in conventional care, I had seen it all, and I was ready for a change. Five years ago, I made the switch to mental health and addiction treatment, becoming Director of Nursing at River Oaks Treatment Facility in Tampa, and it has not only completely rekindled my love for nursing and but also shed a new light on the need for more nurses in the addiction treatment field. Here’s why.

I get to be more creative

In conventional health care, treatments tend to be formulaic and routine—there’s a specific protocol for patients with high blood pressure or diabetes. But mental health patients don’t have protocols because every situation is truly unique. Every day brings a new challenge. While an inpatient rehab from a hip replacement might be a 60-day program where you can anticipate discharge and work toward a relatively routine care plan, mental health patients are much more fluid—you have to go at the pace the patient needs and adapt from there. The day may start off smoothly, and the next thing you know there’s a patient in crisis and three others trying to leave against medical advice, forcing you to think on your feet to quickly diffuse the situation.

It’s a more holistic care

Where acute treatment is focused on solving the specific problem at hand—an injury or chronic illness—addiction care involves treating the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. Patients often come to us with serious medical issues related to or caused by their substance use, in addition to mental health conditions that have contributed to their addiction. They need both medical care and tons of encouragement. Some 40% of positive patient outcomes in addiction treatment are attributed to the strengths the patient brings through the door when they arrive, so their success depends on them receiving positive reinforcement. We also have to consider the patient’s physical limitations, external support system, family dynamics, finances and more. It’s a complex situation, but it’s incredibly rewarding to provide that sense of hope, optimism and encouragement that literally changes someone’s life.

It’s not what most people expect

In previous jobs, each time I’ve moved to a new role, I’ve had an influx of former coworkers who follow. But with this one, they’re more reluctant, largely because of the stigma and lack of education about addiction and mental health. People expect substance use patients to be out of their minds on drugs, having seizures, being disruptive, rude and disrespectful, and that’s overwhelmingly not the case. Many come here genuinely wanting help and ready to make a change. A surprising number are public servants and health care workers themselves, including law enforcement officers, nurses, paramedics, and other professionals. They didn’t choose to become addicted to drugs—it began as a way to cope with severe mental or emotional trauma or as a result of prescribed narcotics to treat physical pain. The stigma and assumption that they’re bad people is just plain wrong.

I get to be an ally

Being a black woman, I know how it feels to be a minority, to feel ostracized and treated differently. And very often, mental health and addiction patients feel that way, too—they’re shunned, stigmatized, and made to feel “less than” because of their disease. My experience allows me to offer a bit more compassion and empathy to help them get well. Studies show that 45% of positive patient outcomes in addiction treatment are linked directly to empathy, acceptance, hope and a belief in themselves that they can overcome it. My goal every day is to be their ally, their advocate, to improve their outlook and to do everything I can to ensure they get the care they deserve. Being able to provide that hope and inspiration—that’s what I love about nursing, and I’ve found that sense of purpose here.

Are you ready for a change?

As part of the hiring process, I’ve talked to so many nurses lately whose number one complaint with their current job is that they’re tired of seeing people die from COVID. They’re also tired of the limited patient interaction and full PPE required for every encounter.

For anyone who’s ready to make a change, ready to get back to providing holistic, community-based care in a safer environment with more engaging patient interaction, I highly recommend making the switch to mental health and addiction treatment.

If you’re like me, nursing isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life. It’s who you are. And in this field, you can feel like yourself again.