The role of a nurse encompasses more than looking after a patient’s physical or mental health, it demands an understanding of people as a whole. The American Nursing Association describes the job as both an ‘art and a science’ and notes that through ‘long-term monitoring of patients’ behavior and knowledge-based expertise, nurses are best placed to take an all-encompassing view of a patient’s wellbeing’.
So, the mental health of the people a nurse is caring for is hugely important, not only if someone needs help specifically in this area, but also in order to understand how someone is being impacted by a diagnosis or a treatment program, for example. Gaining this understanding will help nurses deal with them effectively and professionally in order to make the experience a little easier. So, all nurses, whether specialists within mental health or not, will be involved in dealing with it.
Definition of mental health
When discussing mental health, we focus on our emotional, psychological and social well-being and how we think, feel and behave. All these impact how we relate to other people, handle stress and feed into the choices we make. It can be negatively impacted by all sorts of outside factors, including illness, trauma, bereavement, money worries and relationship issues.
Mental health is an integral component of health and well-being and is experienced in different ways by every single person. It can be positive or negative and lead to very different outcomes depending on the individual and their own experiences and needs. For those who have mental health conditions that impact their lives in a negative way, simply attending a vaccination appointment, or understanding the consequences of a course of treatment for example, could be very stressful.
Many individual, structural and societal factors may combine throughout one’s life to either protect or undermine a person’s mental health, and individual issues such as biological factors including emotional skills, or outside triggers such as substance abuse are likely to make people more vulnerable. We can all be affected at different stages in our lives, and that, of course, includes people working within the health sector.
Understanding yourself and your patients
Good communication, understanding and empathy are all crucial elements to the nurse toolkit and nurturing these soft skills will help make interactions with patients more meaningful and impactful. Empathy is seeing, understanding and sharing the viewpoints of others without judgements, and has cognitive, emotional and behavioral implications.
As well as being aware of the affect mental health has on patients, its crucial for those working within healthcare to consider the impact their job could have on their own thoughts and feelings. Poor mental health may affect day-to-day functioning, physical health and the ability to enjoy life. Working in a stressful, demanding and fast-moving environment can take a negative toll. The health and wellbeing of nurses are inevitably affected by the demands of their workplace, and this affects their work and the people they look after. In addition to support from the organization within which they work to encourage general wellbeing, simple steps such as prioritizing a healthy diet, physical activity and getting enough sleep are very important. Developing mindfulness skills aimed at reducing stress are also helpful, as well as finding relaxing activities such as reading, yoga, swimming or painting, which can all calm the mind and contribute to your own good health and therefore your patients.
Choosing the right course
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, and there will be approximately 203,200 openings for registered nurses projected on average over the decade. So, with the demand for qualified nurses increasing steadily, choosing to enter the profession will provide candidates with a long and rewarding career.
The University of Indianapolis online accelerated BSN program enables students to become a nurse in 15 months, providing 100% online coursework with in-person clinical placements and two on-campus residencies. The faculty emphasizes that nursing is not simply about what nurses do, but about who nurses are.
It is a fulfilling and demanding profession, so when embarking on a nursing course you will be taking the first steps to enter a highly specialized profession with a reputation for dedication and compassion which is indispensable in safeguarding public health. An awareness of the impact of mental health will enable you to be a highly effective nurse.