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How Mental Health Nurses Can Prioritize Self-Care for Their Patients and Themselves

Mental health nurse practitioners (NPs) can work in any number of settings, such as correctional facilities, behavioral health programs, residential substance abuse shelters, outpatient clinics, detox centers, schools, mental health agencies, hospitals, private practice and more. Their job is to help patients cope with stress, trauma and other behavioral challenges, but they may not have people checking in on their well-being.

Working environments for nurses can be demanding and fast-paced, so nurse leaders must provide their staff with the right tools and techniques to check and monitor their stress and mental wellness. Nurses must recognize and cope with the various manifestations of burnout, substance abuse, anxiety and depression. In addition, encouraging nurses to check in on their colleagues is critical.

The St. Thomas University (STU) Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Psychiatric – Mental Health Nurse Practitioner online program will prepare individuals to not only succeed as mental health nurses but also prioritize their own well-being and health.

Managing Stress and Pressure

According to a journal article published by Nursing 2022, there has been a stigma around mental health issues within healthcare. Nursing, specifically, is sometimes subject to a culture of workplace perfectionism. As a result, nurses routinely struggle to live up to the demands while pushing aside their personal feelings, thoughts and needs.

As in any workplace, professionals must be prepared to handle difficult colleagues or patients. Instances of competition or misconduct can breed psychologically hazardous and hostile environments. Individuals who must juggle professional and personal pressures may experience feelings of blame, shame, self-stigmatization, isolation and suffering — regardless of their mental health status.

This issue became particularly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic because many nurses could not effectively take care of themselves while also struggling to keep up with the influx of patients. Nurses continue to work under difficult conditions due to multiple factors including workplace conditions, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), insufficient staffing, inadequate safety precautions and increased mental health care needs post-COVID-19.

Although some organizations have created emotional wellness programs, a cohesive or public effort to address systemic problems is lacking. However, employers, boards of nursing and nursing organizations play a critical role in supporting nursing staff and helping them mitigate stress by prioritizing wellness benefits, programs and flexible schedules for their employees. Mental health NPs can play a part in each of these efforts.

Key Leadership Elements

Better workplace policies and practices are required to prevent and mitigate nurses’ well-being, especially given the pandemic’s toll on all individuals’ mental health. In an article published by MedPage Today, a nurse leader discusses solutions she created to combat the mental health crisis evolving within the healthcare profession.

Part of addressing nurse well-being is giving nurses the knowledge and tools to recognize unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse. Healthcare leaders have an obligation to provide resources that promote healthy coping mechanisms and help those who find themselves in trouble with damaging coping mechanisms.

Nurse leaders have the responsibility to be hands-on regarding the mental health of each nurse under their charge, and mental health NPs have the expertise to educate colleagues on self-care. Nurse leaders must be willing to provide the necessary help and tools to balance stress within the workplace. They must also emphasize to their staff that nurses should not feel lesser or weak because they ask for help. Rather, they celebrate when nurses are willing to speak up and demand better working conditions to help their mental health.

Gain Mental Health Expertise and Healthy Personal Habits

There’s no doubt that advocating for the mental health of nurses is the next frontier, and one way to do so for yourself and others is to further your career in nursing leadership with an MSN – Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner online degree. STU’s program equips graduates with the skills to advocate for patients’ health outcomes, “the knowledge and insights to make independent, crucial judgments with authority” and maintain self-accountability for their own well-being.

Coursework covers a number of related topics, such as knowledge of nursing best practices, ethical and critical decision-making, healthcare technology, professional growth, policy advocacy, collaboration, health promotion and more.

Ultimately, graduates will be prepared nursing professionals with the knowledge and skills required to prioritize mental health in others and themselves.

Learn more about St. Thomas University’s Master of Science in Nursing – Psychiatric – Mental Health Nurse Practitioner online program.

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