Self-care for nurses a must 

Recently there has been a surge in research about moral distress, compassion fatigue and burnout in the nursing sector, associated with risk factors of anxiety and depression, says Dr Stacey Wilson.

Dr Stacey Wilson from the School of Nursing.

Recent media on well-being, and health and safety in the workplace has highlighted the need to acknowledge and address unhealthy stress and the potential for emotional exhaustion in the nursing workforce, according to mental health researcher Dr Stacey Wilson.

The Massey University School of Nursing senior lecturer specialises in mental health, emotional competence and ethical issues in nursing practice, and says many nurses face uncertainty in their workplace with a “do more for less and work smarter” message across all government and non-government agencies.

“There has been a surge in research about moral distress, compassion fatigue and burnout in the nursing sector, associated with risk factors of anxiety and depression. The nursing profession is leading the development of strategies to address the high stress and emotional demands of their work.”

She says like the general workforce, nurses are not keen to disclose mental health and addiction issues. “The paradox is that nurses are advocating help for patients to address their mental health needs, but the profession itself is often reluctant to seek help and support other nurses who do. This is related to the associated stigma and potential discrimination in the workplace. 

“Nurses engage with people throughout our communities during urgent health crises and are there alongside them for support in the long-term and in coming to terms with living well despite on-going symptoms of health conditions. In order to undertake the demanding emotional labour of nursing, the profession needs robust strategies in the future to be equipped to work in clinical practice, education and research,” Dr Wilson says.

“Initiatives such as the recent changes to the Bachelor of Nursing curriculum, where unlike any other education provider, three papers within the degree have been designed to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes of nursing graduates with sound interpersonal skills to engage people and their families experiencing mental distress.”

Within the undergraduate and postgraduate nursing programmes, addressing the mental health needs of the workforce and those in our community that nurses care for, must be a priority, Dr Wilson says.

“This includes the need for research and professional development opportunities to build emotional competence, skills on addressing conflict in the workplace and nationwide engagement about critically reflective practice and collegial support.

“Nurses are highly regarded and valued people who also need to spend time being compassionate to themselves and each other and be continually working on emotional competency,” Dr Wilson says.

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