Depression in nurses: The epidemic no one is talking about

Depression in nurses: The epidemic no one is talking about

The nursing profession is fast-paced and demanding. It requires immense concentration, stamina and accountability. Nursing is often characterized by a “culture of survival” where they face several situations as a direct consequence of their job – rude and thankless patients, deterioration of patients’ health and even their death. These daily stressors take a toll and may manifest in the form of depression.

In spite of receiving the necessary training and skills, nurses may at times not be able to detect symptoms of disorders in their own case. It may be relatively easier for nurses to ignore confusing symptoms such as fatigue, inattentiveness, irritability, variations in weight and disturbed sleep patterns by attributing them to daily stress. Ignoring depressive symptoms can be detrimental not only to the nurse’s own health but also to the quality of care being given to patients. It also affects the workload of colleagues.

The nursing community is battling a silent epidemic and no one is talking about it. Research sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) has found that nearly 18 percent of registered nurses suffer from clinical depression, which is twice the rate compared to the general population. Past research shows that the rate of depression among nurses in other countries may be even higher and the prevalence is higher in women nurses than in men.

Fear of social stigma prevents nurses from sharing problems

Susan Letvak, professor, chair of adult health nursing, director of undergraduate programs at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Nursing and lead researcher of the study, states that when nurses are experiencing low moods, the effect can be felt by everyone around them. However, there is an absence of willpower and the ability to deal with this condition.

Nurses are apprehensive that if someone even remotely suspects that they have depression, it will impact their careers adversely. This is largely due to the stigma associated with mental disorders. Letvak adds that by virtue of their profession, nurses are expected to care for others; they cannot be labeled as being less capable and suffering from mental problems.

Since depression is not a “tangible” illness, its causes and symptoms are often disregarded. The INQRI study shows that besides cultural issues affecting nurses, they may develop depression symptoms due to other causes including low self-worth, substance abuse, improper body mass index (BMI), lack of parental or social support, stressful life events, job dissatisfaction and lower educational qualifications.

Letvak and other researchers emphasize that depression is different from stress caused due to specific circumstances, places or people. Stress may contribute to the onset of depression but both are not the same thing. Therefore, it is critical for nurses to recognize the symptoms of depression, especially since they can be more understated than what they would typically be inclined to believe. They may experience a variety of symptoms such as difficulty in concentration, slower response times during crises, susceptibility to accidents and difficulty in remembering or making decisions. Interpersonal skills, time management and efficiency of depressed nurses are usually impacted and they may also become quick-tempered.

Dealing with nurses’ depression is a sensitive matter

Due to the stigmatization of mental illnesses, it is not easy to talk about depression in the workplace. Managers, colleagues and even nurses themselves need to recognize the symptoms of depression in the first place before any help can be offered. Managers can play a critical role in the process by empathizing with and giving work flexibility to nurses who need help.

A proper diagnosis by a mental health expert is essential to identify the fundamental cause of depression and start treatment. It is also important to rule out the possibility of other diseases such as diabetes mellitus, anemia and thyroid disorders which share similar symptoms as depression. If depression is established and treatment is started, nurses should be constantly encouraged to continue it. Most importantly, nurses need to take care of themselves during the course of treatment and avoid triggers that further deteriorate their condition.

Depression can be treated if symptoms are identified in a timely manner. If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, contact the Depression Treatment Helpline to know about the most effective treatment plan for depression offered by evidence-based treatment centers. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-619-7729 or chat online with our experts to find some of the finest depression recovery centers in your vicinity.