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The last drop: when those who help need help too

By: Eva Haishun

The healthcare system has been going through hard times even before the pandemic. Doctors and nurses have been working overtime, with night shifts and endless lines of patients. While medical professionals take care of others, no one looks after them. In fact, nurses and doctors frequently prioritize the health of their patients over their own well-being. This mentality takes a toll on the physical and mental health of the medical personnel. In modern times, when technological advances made it possible to cure diseases that were considered deadly in the past century, mental health is still being neglected as a crucial part of living. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, common mental health conditions such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder are frequently stigmatized, leading people to avoid seeking help. And the consequences of this mindset translate into the medical field as well.

Medical professionals try to do their best even under pressure.

The healthcare industry is one of the most stressful fields - doctors and nurses make life and death decisions, often when sleep deprived. While in theory, medical professionals should be the most healthy people, that is far from true. The study on Chronic Disease Prevalence and Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors Among US Health Care Professionals done by Mayo Clinic demonstrates that while doctors have fewer instances of obesity and diabetes than the general public, in the past two decades, the rates of both obesity and diabetes have grown by 50 percent. In reality, they have to go through immense challenges that take a cost on physical health, which, in turn, affects mental health and can cause burnout and depression. Nurses interact with patients daily. They give bed baths, help them eat, get them out of bed, change bedsheets, administer their medicine, and most of the time, they need to do that for multiple patients at a time. But it is never purely physical labor: nurses form an emotional bond with a patient, even for a short period, and sometimes not only with patients. Nurses handle difficult conversations with a patient’s family and often have to know how to deal with the adverse reaction. They must take care of their physical and mental health to handle the stress of the job and help people, but it is a skill they have to learn on their own.

Nurses live through difficult moments with their patients daily.

Nursing is not only a high-pressure job but a stressful degree to get. It requires a lot of time to prepare for the classes and frequent testing. I overheard several students talking to each other, discussing that they often needed to take several challenging subjects while juggling part-time jobs and family responsibilities. But the challenges do not go away when they graduate. Nurses have pressures and expectations to show up and do their best for the patients.

Challenges do not stop students from pursuing a career in nursing. Gabriella Salce, a junior nursing student, said that there is a lot of stress she needs to handle, on top of studying and a part-time job. She said, “The workload can be overwhelming at times. But then I think about the reasons for wanting to become a nurse, and I push through. I know that the stress will continue as a nurse, but I know that I will manage.” Luckily for us, Gabriella and many other nurses continue to push through the hardships to help people, sometimes at the expense of their well-being. However, I believe that it should not be the case, and there are ways to help the ones who sacrifice so much to support people. In Gabriella’s case, neither school nor job provides training on stress management. The institutions are worried about educating the curriculum and have no time to help people navigate the stress of their future careers. It is integral to give nurses the appropriate education so they can manage their mental health well. Research on stress and stress management interventions for mental health nurses by the University of Wales showed the nursing personnel engaged in stress management training. While for the duration of the workshop participants showed a significant decrease in stress, most of the personnel lacked consistency, and the results eventually faded away. And they are not to blame for those results.

Studies demonstrate that while workshops on stress management are practical, lack of implementation and supervision makes them inefficient. Nurses do one of the most important jobs - they take care of people’s lives. And there is very little done to help them manage their struggles. It is especially evident after the pandemic. In two years, the stress only increased, but nothing had changed. Now both schools and hospitals put nurses in charge of their well-being, which not many people are equipped to do. While the shift can not happen over time, the change needs to start somewhere, and so far, it has not.

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