The most rewarding parts of being a nurse, according to a 2022 survey by Medscape, include caring for others, a good work-life balance, high job satisfaction, and ongoing development of professional skills.1 A career in nursing can also come with high levels of stress, and especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, high levels of burnout puts nurses mental health at risk.2,3 But, when a nursing career is your life’s calling, the many rewards of being a nurse can outweigh the stress of caring for people who need you.
To help you maintain a long and fulfilling career in nursing, you must be proactive about self-care and your mental health to keep your resilience strong. Read on to learn about the unique challenges for nurses' mental health, ways to protect your mental health in nursing school, and how to prevent burnout as a nurse.
In This Article:
- Why Nursing Mental Health Is Important
- The Mental Health of Nurses
- Special Considerations in Nursing School
- How To Improve the Mental Health of Nurses
- Caring for Your Patients Starts With Caring for Your Mental Health
Why Nursing Mental Health Is Important
Considering the unique challenges nurses face — sick patients, high-stress situations, and fast-paced work environments — nurses must first take good care of themselves to provide the best care for their patients. That includes their mental health. Taking care of your mental health as a nurse is vital because it can impact three key aspects of your nursing career:4
- Patient care quality: Nurse mental health directly impacts the ability to provide safe and effective care. When your mental health is strong, you make sound clinical judgments, can offer better emotional support to your patients, and can handle stressful situations more effectively, ultimately improving patient outcomes.
- Workplace productivity: When nurses are mentally healthy, the healthcare team is more productive, engaged and resilient. Prioritizing your mental well-being can help reduce burnout, absenteeism and turnover.
- Personal well-being: Nursing can be an emotional career. Nurses often witness exciting, stressful, and sometimes dangerous situations daily, so caring for your mental health is essential to prevent compassion fatigue, post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues.
The high-stress work environments, long hours, and shift work alone can also affect nurse mental health. If left unaddressed, the mental health of nurses can negatively impact job performance and, eventually, the quality of patient care. Identifying and addressing these stressors early can prevent them from building up over time.
The Mental Health of Nurses
But mental health struggles aren’t always easy to identify. They may look different for each nurse based on previous experiences with mental health and available support systems. Recognizing when you or a colleague might be experiencing mental health challenges means you can seek help sooner.
Here are five signs that you may be experiencing changes in your mental health:5
- Feeling sad, depressed or hopeless
- Sleeping more
- Disinterest in formerly enjoyable activities
- Lack of appetite
- Emotional outbursts/withdrawal from family and friends
If you or someone you know is experiencing self-harm or thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 24/7 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and speak to a live and trained professional.6
Special Considerations in Nursing School
Nursing school can cause additional stressors that can challenge your mental health. For example, balancing classwork, job, family commitments can exacerbate the pressure to succeed.
There are multiple resources online that can offer support and teach you techniques to care for your mental health. Your school or community may have support and resources for your mental health and nursing journey, allowing you to continue to take better care of yourself and your patients.
Review the GCU Office of Student Care website for more information on health resources and counseling services available to you at GCU.
How To Improve the Mental Health of Nurses
The data might seem overwhelming, but the good news is that there are resources and strategies to protect your mental health and well-being in nursing school and your nursing career. In the same way your body needs nutrition and exercise to stay healthy, so does your brain. Take time each day to support your mental health.
Here are eight strategies for improving nurse mental health and preventing burnout:7
- Prioritize self-care practices and stress management techniques
- Foster a supportive work culture and open communication channels
- Promote work-life balance by taking time off for rejuvenation
- Make time for reflection with guided meditation apps like Calm or Headspace
- Seek professional help from your primary care practitioner, a mental health professional, or a campus mental health professional or counselor
- Make time for friends and activities you enjoy
- Prioritize sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise
- Keep a daily journal to help reflect
Nurses provide comfort and healing for their patients and their families during moments of great emotion — sadness and happiness, illness and the restoration of health — and nurses are well-trained to help their patients with mental health challenges. Therefore, it is also important to know how to improve your own mental health through these proactive strategies to help you continue delivering positive patient outcomes and a long nursing career.
Caring for Patients Starts With Caring About Nurse Mental Health
Despite the emotional and stressful nature of a nursing career, being a nurse is a highly satisfying career choice, continually proven by the fact that nurses have been the most trusted profession for over two decades.8
By understanding the unique obstacles you will face as a nurse, acknowledging the importance of your mental health, and recognizing the early signs of mental health strain, you can better adapt to the tasks required for nursing school and being a nurse. You can rest assured that your work as a nurse has many positive impacts on your patients' lives.
Complete the form on this page for more information about the support you will receive as a nursing student at Grand Canyon University, and how you can earn an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) in as few as 16 months.9
1 McKenna, J., (2022, December 16). Infographic: Most and Least Rewarding Aspects of Nursing Profession and Who Has Been Pinched on Pay. Medscape. Retrieved on July 3, 2023.
2 The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Thriving Health Workforce. (2022). Addressing Health Worker Burnout. Retrieved on July 5, 2023.
3 Ford, M., (2021, March 31). Nursing Times survey reveals state of nurses’ mental health one year into pandemic. Retrieved on June 23, 2023.
4 Walters, S. (2022, February 18). How Nurses Can Combat Compassion Fatigue. Nurse Journal. Retrieved on September 4, 2023.
5 Mental illness. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on June 26, 2023.
6 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Retrieved on June 26, 2023.
7 Hofmeyer, A., Taylor, R., & Kennedy, K., (2020, June 15). Knowledge for nurses to better care for themselves so they can better care for others during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. Nurse Education Today. Retrieved on July 3, 2023.
8 Brenan, M. (2023, Jan. 10). Nurses Retain Top Ethics Rating in U.S., but Below 2020 High. Gallup. Retrieved on Oct. 3, 2023.
9 Secondary applicants must transfer a minimum of 60 of the required 123 credits or have completed a baccalaureate degree which includes nine prerequisite courses/labs and 10 general education courses prior to starting the core nursing courses, which can be completed in as few as 16 months. Direct entry applicants that do not transfer 60 credits but meet the minimum requirements can complete these credits through GCU prior to starting the core nursing courses. Depending on the state where student has enrolled or intends to complete the program, student may require additional courses. This may include, but is not limited to, additional general education courses, courses in the major, clinical courses or a different course sequence. See University Policy Handbook.
Approved by the dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on Oct. 2, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.