On July 27th, Simone Biles withdrew from an Olympics all-around finals round because of mental health concerns. Sponsors and coaches applauded her decision. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if nurses followed her lead?
This week on NPR a physician from Arkansas shared that nurses were walking off the job mid-shift totally overwhelmed amidst a 20% nursing shortage. The situation in many places is desperate as nurses witness the Delta variant of the COVID virus attacking pregnant women, children, and younger patients in their 40’s. A person can only take so much for so long. Then what?
“It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind & body in sync,” Biles wrote in an Instagram post. No kidding. Welcome to nursing. We fall off that balance beam every day.
It’s terrifying to work in an environment where you have absolutely no down time, a stack of tasks to complete, emotional family members to console, and a job that requires consistently high-level cognitive skills. Imagine a line that is as fragile, thin, and imperceptible as a spider’s web. That’s your mental health border. How do you know if you’ve broken that boundary and are working as a burned-out nurse?
• You start snapping at people for no reason
• You have trouble sleeping and never feel well-rested
• Your relationships suffer because you don’t have the energy to engage
• You stop caring – because that takes energy. There’s no joy.
• You feel like a hamster on a spinning wheel you can’t get off
• You start isolating yourself from others
• You’re always tired – a constant fatigue- and/or you are having trouble concentrating
• You over-eat… or don’t eat. Significant weight gain or loss.
Do you have any of these burnout symptoms?
A professional nurse is one who understands and respects their limits because he/she knows that unless they are rested and healthy, they are putting their patient’s lives in danger. The foundation of loyalty to our patients, is loyalty to ourselves.
Imagine your manager and organization supporting you on as you take that much needed mental health day (You will need your imagination and courage because in many places the response is punitive – but this is exactly how one person can exercise their personal power to change social norms!)
The problem is not your organization, or our wonderful profession, or your manager – the problem is that nurses work in a system where they are a line item with little power or autonomy.
Here’s literally the bottom line: TAKE CARE OF YOU. You are invaluable. No one else is going to take care of you but YOU.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.
Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they text “HOME” to 741741.
Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.
All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses. Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners. She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.
Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.