Your shift is in the morning, but the thoughts are already invading your mind. And you know they will get worse as the night goes on. As these thoughts spin and spin, you’re letting your mind create and review each worst case scenario. You know that the thoughts will continue to worsen while you’re getting ready in the morning, while you’re driving and you’re to the point where you can feel your heartbeat out of your chest as you take the elevator up to your floor. You never get used to it, but it has become part of the job. You’re a nurse with depression, and no one knows...not even you.
[bctt tweet="For #MentalHealthAwareness month, it’s time we start talking about depression and anxiety in nursing. We need to find the root of it and make the discussion less taboo. " username="freedomhcs"]
Depression in Nursing
Anxiety and depression have become an epidemic in nursing. Nurses experience clinical depression at twice the rate of the general public, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative. To be specific, depression affects 9% of everyday citizens, but 18% of nurses experience symptoms of depression. Combine this with the stressors of being a travel nurse, and you have a recipe for some very lonely assignments.
For Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s time we start talking about depression and anxiety in nursing. We need to find the root of it and make the discussion less taboo. The less we discuss the issue, the more nurses who feel this way are going to feel alone in their thoughts. If the causes of this epidemic are not addressed and discussions remain taboo, more nurses will become depressed and believe they are alone in this. This could lead to dangerous situations for patients, and a continued increase in the nursing shortage.
Nurses are taught about mental health in their schooling. Some work in mental health units. It’s safe to say that nurses know what the symptoms of depression look like in their patients. Since the focus is always on the patients, the subtleties of the symptoms in themselves could be easily missed. But the distraction of patient’s health problems couldn’t possibly be the only reason for this epidemic.
Depression does not solely happen because the person doesn’t realize they are depressed. There has to be a cause. Since nurses are trained to focus on the physical health of their patients, they may focus solely on their own physical health. It’s not within their realm of treatment to peel away at the onion and figure out what is affecting their own mental state.
Nursing culture is also ruthless. You are expected to not get too attached to patients, act as though helping someone after a tragic accident or caring for a child with a life-threatening disease won’t affect you when you go home and you shouldn’t mourn the death of a patient for too long when there are other patients to tend to. Some nurses even brag and take great pride in the number of horrors they have seen. Maybe this is simply a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s a culture of acceptance. When this culture of acceptance is coupled with an inconsistent work schedule, how can depressive states not develop?
Depression + Traveling
Traveling for work has its perks, but it’s not as glamorous as it looks. Of course, you get to explore new cities, sightsee and meet new, interesting people, but the excitement wears off. These new experiences may not feel as meaningful without a loved one to enjoy them with. The combination of a high-stress job and traveling solo can leave travelers feeling lonely. Those you care about could be a phone call away, but you don’t have that friend or partner that you can grab dinner with and vent about what struggles you’re facing.
There is also the stress of beginning a new position in a completely new environment every 13 weeks. Even if you are confident in your abilities and have years of experience, every assignment will feel a little different. You’re frequently meeting new coworkers, trying to figure out where you fit in the company culture of your new assignment and you may always feel like the newbie. Studies have found that there are a host of costs - physiological, psychological and emotional - to frequent travel. The authors of this study call this the “dark side of hypermobility.” And traveling for business is not only hard on the traveler, the same study shows that marriages are prone to suffer when one partner is often away on business.
[bctt tweet="You can feel your heartbeat out of your chest as you take the elevator up to your floor. This feeling has become part of the job. You’re a #nurse with depression, and no one knows...not even you. You aren't alone:" username="freedomhcs"]
Education is the primary method to get nurses treated for depression. This means recognizing the symptoms in themselves and in others. Nurses need to look out for other nurses and recognize when their coworker is struggling. Depression in nursing and specifically in travel nursing is multifactorial, but part of the problem is the stigma that comes with it.
Start planning your downtime before you arrive at a new location. Do some research and make a list of places you’d like to see, restaurants you’d like to try and events you’d like to attend. Bring your list and add more based on recommendations from locals!
Eating healthy, even when working long, tough hours is possible! Every traveling nurse needs this healthy eating guide!
Find places where you can get involved with your preexisting hobbies. Do you love yoga? Find the best local studio. Studies show that 20 to 30 minutes of even moderate exercise every day can significantly reduce symptoms of mild to moderate clinical depression. Are you religious? Find a local church that matches your views! Take advantage of this time by exploring new areas in your new, temporary home, sign up for a fun dance class or find a great trail system and go on a bike ride.
This could be an obvious one, but seeing your loved ones' faces, even for brief moments, is a huge help. Rather than a quick catch-up call, make an effort to Skype or Facetime while on assignment. A video call during a family dinner will make you feel like you’re catching up in the best way.
Don't Fear Saying "Yes!"
Above all, become a “yes” person. Be open to new experiences and fill your downtime with activities you love and some that may be outside of your comfort zone! Traveling alone is a great way to learn more about yourself and create experiences that will shape you for the rest of your life!
Not into the whole traveling alone journey? Freedom Healthcare Staffing offers traveling nurses housing that is pet-friendly. Learn about becoming a traveling nurse with a furry companion. Take advantage of this checklist on how to travel with pets! Don’t forget to check into our traveling nurse jobs portal for the latest assignments in your specialty.