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Prioritizing Mental Health for Nurses in Canada

November 22, 2023

One of the most demanding professions in health care is nursing, which requires dedication, compassion, and resilience. It combines both soft and hard skills in order to provide and maintain the highest quality of care for patients while also knowing what it takes to manage and cure illnesses based on physician-prescribed protocols. But however fulfilling it is, the challenging nature of the job can expose them to mental health risks and the well-being of nurses.

In this article, we will explore the importance of prioritizing mental health for nurses, touching on the many psychological needs of the healthcare workforce, discussing common mental health problems they may face, and providing strategies to help them get the mental health support that they need, including policy recommendations, peer support groups, and concrete steps for systemic changes in healthcare.

How Do We Understand Mental Health for Nurses?

Nurses play a vital role in the medical industry as health care workers, and the demands of the profession definitely take a toll on their psychological resilience and lead them to poor mental health. It's essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the mental health challenges that nurses may face in order to give them appropriate support.

Some key aspects to consider include the top mental health issues among nurses, the impact of mental health outcomes on their jobs, how this decline in mental health affects the general population, various factors behind these issues, and how to maintain good mental health not just among nurse practitioners or nurses of any classification but also the whole of the healthcare workforce.

Top 6 Mental Health Issues Among Nurses

As frontline caregivers in healthcare settings, nurses often experience a range of mental health issues due to the demanding nature of their profession. Included in the most common mental health issues among nurses are psychological stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. Meanwhile, nurses are also at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to exposure to events such as patient deaths or critical incidents.

Additionally, depression and anxiety disorders are also prevalent among nurses, which is likely linked to chronic work-related stress and the challenges associated with providing compassionate care while managing high-pressure situations. Some of the mental health conditions that nurses are susceptible to include psychological stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue.

1) Psychological Stress

Nurses often face high levels of stress due to the fast-paced and emotionally demanding nature of their work. Constant exposure to any risk factor like illness, suffering, and life-or-death situations can lead to chronic stress. Specifically, the responsibility for making critical decisions in life-or-death scenarios adds an enormous burden on nurses' mental well-being.

The constant need to multitask, manage and spend time efficiently, and maintain a strong professional demeanour places them at risk for chronic stress and increased vulnerability to other types of mental illness such as anxiety and depression. All of these factors can hinder their overall job performance, make absenteeism rates skyrocket, undermine patient care quality, and ultimately make health systems collapse if left this way.

2) Burnout

Prolonged and unmanaged stress can result in burnout, characterized by emotional exhaustion, moments of depersonalization, or even the loss of one's sense of personal accomplishment. Exposure to long working hours, work overload, and emotional exhaustion leaves nurses vulnerable to chronic fatigue, musculoskeletal disorders, and compromised immune systems.

To add to this, the constant exposure to distressing situations such as trauma or death, combined with demanding work environments and lack of resources, can exhaust nurses enough to make them want to quit their jobs and start a new one altogether.

3) Compassion Fatigue

Health workers like nurses regularly provide empathetic care to patients, which can lead to emotional exhaustion and reduced ability to feel empathy, known as compassion fatigue. Leading to decreased empathy towards patients, compassion fatigue is a diminished ability to provide quality care to patients.

Nurses may also struggle with feelings of cynicism, irritability, and detachment, which can hinder effective communication with patients and result in suboptimal treatment outcomes. Additionally, nurses experiencing compassion fatigue often face increased levels of stress and burnout due to the emotional burden they carry.

4) Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Nurses are some of the healthcare providers on the frontlines of vicarious traumatization from public health emergencies. They are exposed to a plethora of distressing events that can trigger PTSD symptoms. The relentless exposure to suffering, loss, and high-stress situations places them at a heightened risk. This debilitating condition can disrupt a nurse's ability to provide optimal care for patients by impairing their cognitive function, affecting decision-making abilities, and reducing empathy.

Nurses with PTSD may experience intrusive thoughts or flashbacks related to traumatic incidents, leading to an emotional detachment or avoidance behaviours. Additionally, sleep disturbances and feelings of hypervigilance can impede concentration and contribute to chronic exhaustion. This all inevitably leads to negative psychological outcomes like long-running mental health disorders if left unchecked.

5) Depression

As healthcare providers who are constantly exposed to extensive psychological and emotional stressors, nurses are at an increased risk of developing depression due to the demanding nature of their work. The symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, and fatigue, can hinder a nurse's ability to provide quality care for their patients and, ultimately, their professional development.

Additionally, depression may lead to decreased motivation, difficulty concentrating, and impaired decision-making skills. This can have repercussions on patient safety and outcomes. Depression among nurses may also contribute to increased absenteeism or presenteeism, further straining the already burdened healthcare system. But the worst outcome of all is that if it's left untreated, depression can lead to the loss of will to live, which manifests in suicidal behaviour like self-harm or actual suicide attempts.

6) Anxiety Disorders

Lastly, nurses with anxiety disorders may find it increasingly difficult to cope with the fast-paced environment in the hospital setting, as their heightened sense of worry and fear can impair decision-making abilities and affect patient care.

Additionally, nurses may experience physical symptoms as well, such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, abnormal sleep patterns, or digestive problems that further hinder their ability to effectively perform their duties. Psychological distress that comes with their jobs brings about an unprecedented impact on not just individual healthcare workers but also the system altogether.

Impact of Mental Health Conditions on Nurses

As mentioned above, there's a profound impact on the psychological well-being not just of nurses but also the entire healthcare workforce brought about by the decline of their mental health. Some of the most significant consequences are the following:

A heart-to-heart conversation between individuals.

Recognizing Signs of Mental Health Struggles Among Nurses

Some common signs like frequent absenteeism, changes in mood or behaviour, increased irritability or emotional outbursts, reduced job performance and productivity, social withdrawal, and decreased engagement with patients and colleagues can all be telltale signs indicating mental health struggles, and if you notice this not only among your peers but also within yourself, then by all means, you can seek mental health help from the right sources.

Meanwhile, it's also crucial for healthcare organizations to create a culture that prioritizes mental health by implementing preventive measures like regular check-ins and debriefing sessions to identify early warning signs. Encouraging open communication about mental health struggles ensures that nurses feel supported without judgment.

Strategies for Prioritizing Mental Health and Well-being for Nurses

Nursing is a demanding profession that requires dedication and compassion. However, the nature of the job can often lead to stress, burnout, and mental health challenges for nurses. It's crucial for nurses to prioritize their mental health and well-being to ensure they can continue to provide optimal care to their patients. Here are some comprehensive strategies to help nurses prioritize their mental health:

A list of the strategies for prioritizing mental health and well-being for nurses

Self-care Practices for Nurses

Nurses need practices for self-care to induce positive emotions and an optimistic mindset and provide other potential benefits like avoidance of unhealthy coping strategies like substance use or social media addiction, resilience in times of crisis, and indulging in the things you like doing to divert your attention from any work-related moral injury.

1) Engage in regular physical exercise

Physical activity helps reduce stress levels, improve mood, and promote overall well-being. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, as regular exercise not only strengthens our bodies but also improves the endurance, flexibility, and stamina necessary to cope with the physical demands of your profession.

Aside from the physical benefits, exercise has also been proven to enhance mental acuity, increase focus, reduce stress levels, and improve overall mood. Nurses who prioritize regular exercise can effectively manage work-related stressors and prevent burnout.

Setting an example of a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise can inspire patients to do the same and promote a culture of wellness within healthcare settings.

2) Maintain a balanced diet

Proper nutrition is essential for physical and mental health. Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial for nurses in order to ensure optimal performance, physical well-being, and the ability to provide quality patient care. Nurses are often exposed to high levels of stress, long working hours, and physically demanding tasks, making it even more important for them to fuel their bodies with nutritious foods.

A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can provide the necessary nutrients and energy needed for nurses to sustain their stamina throughout their shifts. Additionally, a well-balanced diet can help prevent chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders that could hinder a nurse's ability to deliver safe and effective care. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy weight through proper nutrition can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries associated with patient-handling tasks.

Read More: Healthy Eating Habits Recommended For Nurses

3) Prioritize sufficient sleep

Sleep deprivation can negatively impact mental health. Nurses should absolutely prioritize sufficient sleep as it is essential for maintaining their own health and well-being, as well as ensuring optimal patient care. Sleep deprivation has been linked to numerous negative effects on both physical and cognitive functioning, including impaired judgment, decreased reaction time, and reduced attention span. These consequences can significantly compromise a nurse's ability to make critical decisions, monitor patients effectively, and provide safe and high-quality care.

Moreover, fatigue can also lead to increased stress levels and decreased job satisfaction among nurses, which may ultimately contribute to burnout or increased turnover within the profession. Recognizing the demanding nature of nursing work with irregular schedules and long shifts is crucial in acknowledging the importance of sufficient sleep for nurses.

Employers need to implement strategies that promote healthy sleep habits, such as establishing reasonable work hours, providing designated rest areas, and offering access to resources like counselling or educational programs focused on managing fatigue. As for healthcare workers, they should aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night to restore energy, enhance concentration, and improve emotional resilience.

4) Practice mindfulness and stress management techniques

In the demanding field of healthcare, nurses face numerous stressors that can adversely affect their well-being and job performance. As such, it's crucial for nurses to practice mindfulness and stress management techniques to maintain professional excellence. Mindfulness, a state of active attention and acceptance of present experiences, allows nurses to improve self-awareness, reduce burnout, and enhance emotional regulation.

By integrating mindfulness into their daily routines, nurses can become more attuned to patient needs and provide person-centred care more effectively. Additionally, stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises or meditation enable nurses to cope with high-pressure situations and prevent compassion fatigue.

Furthermore, practicing mindfulness promotes effective communication skills within the healthcare team by fostering active listening and empathic understanding among colleagues. Therefore, incorporating these techniques into nursing education programs can help cultivate a resilient workforce that delivers compassionate care while safeguarding their own mental health and well-being.

5) Utilize your social connections

Networking is beneficial in expanding your professional opportunities. While still maintaining ethical boundaries and prioritizing patient care. Nurses should focus on building networks within the healthcare community and engage in mentorship programs that provide guidance from experienced professionals. Strong social support is vital for mental well-being. During your downtime, spend time with loved ones, engage in hobbies or activities you enjoy, and consider joining support groups specifically designed for healthcare professionals.

5 self-care practices for nurses

Setting Boundaries and Managing Workload

It's excellent for your mental health to set healthy boundaries and manage your workload in the hospital, and some of the steps in order to do so include learning to say no to certain tasks, delegate those tasks to other colleagues, avoid taking extra shifts, and collaborate with your peers to make sure tasks are evenly distributed. This is further discussed below:

Building a Supportive Work Environment

When you build a supportive work environment, you foster employee engagement, boost productivity, and ultimately drive success for healthcare organizations. To create such an atmosphere, leaders must foster good workplace relationships, promote support programs, and advocate for a culture of support and empathy. This is expounded on below:

Seeking Professional Help and Resources

In a healthcare landscape that's always changing, nurses are expected to carry the burden of their work unconditionally, as it's believed to be "part of their job". However, the challenges and demands of the profession has been established to take a toll on the mental well-being of nurses. This is why recognizing the importance of seeking professional help and resources is essential for organizations to start focusing on providing support systems for nurses.

Prioritizing mental health and well-being is crucial for nurses to maintain their passion, resilience, and ability to provide excellent care. By implementing these strategies, nurses can enhance their mental well-being and create a healthier and more supportive work environment for themselves and their colleagues.

Avoiding Unhealthy Coping Strategies

Nurses, invested with the enormous responsibility of providing care and support to patients in their most vulnerable times, often confront a multitude of stressors that can lead to unhealthy coping strategies. Some significant examples are the following:

1) Substance Abuse

One prominent example of unhealthy coping strategies is substance abuse. The demanding nature of the profession, coupled with long working hours and exposure to traumatic events, can predispose nurses to resort to substances as a means of escape or self-medication. Moreover, the high expectations placed on nurses often make seeking help for addiction difficult due to fear of professional consequences or stigma.

2) Emotional Eating

Additionally, excessive reliance on unhealthy coping strategies such as emotional eating may arise from work-related stressors as well. Emotional eating is often associated with high-calorie comfort foods that are usually low in nutritional value. Consequently, healthcare workers like nurses may experience weight gain or obesity-related health issues over time.

3) Sedentary Lifestyle

Healthcare workers often resort to prolonged periods of physical inactivity as a means of escape or relaxation. This behaviour not only poses serious risks to physical health but also negatively impacts mental well-being. By engaging in sedentary activities such as excessive screen time or hours spent sitting at a desk, you limit opportunities for physical exercise and social interaction, which are crucial for maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

Overall, these coping mechanisms not only undermine nurses' well-being but also jeopardize patient care, as impaired physical and mental health impede performance and decision-making abilities. As professionals in the healthcare industry, it's imperative that healthy coping mechanisms such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and stress management techniques are promoted, encouraged, and shared in order to counteract the harmful effects of sedentary behaviours and foster overall well-being among healthcare workers like nurses.

Overcoming Barriers to Prioritizing Mental Health for Nurses

One major barrier is the stigma surrounding mental health within the healthcare profession. Nurses may fear being perceived as weak or incompetent if they seek help for their own mental health issues, creating a culture of silence and hiding. Another barrier is the demanding nature of nursing work, which often leaves little time for self-care and reflection. Long hours, high levels of stress, and emotionally challenging situations can take a toll on nurses' mental health, but limited resources and support from healthcare organizations make it difficult for them to prioritize their own needs.

Additionally, structural barriers, such as lack of access to mental health services specifically tailored for healthcare professionals, can discourage nurses from seeking help. To overcome these barriers, it's essential to create an environment that encourages open discussions about mental health, provides ample resources for self-care, offers accessible mental health support services specifically designed for nurses, and implements policies that prioritize their well-being alongside patient care.

Recognizing and addressing the stigma surrounding mental health in healthcare is vital. Healthcare organizations should work towards reforming the organizational culture by implementing mental health initiatives, promoting open dialogue, and providing resources and support for nurses to prioritize their well-being. It must be of widespread understanding that self-care is an essential part of nursing practice, enabling nurses to provide better care to their patients.

Find a new fulfilling nurse job at Caring Support.


By engaging in regular self-reflection, establishing healthy coping mechanisms, and seeking assistance from colleagues or mental health professionals, nurses can enhance their strength and ability to provide quality care for patients. To add to this, healthcare organizations should also play an active role in promoting mental health awareness among their nursing staff by offering resources such as counselling services, debriefing sessions after critical incidents, and creating a positive work environment that fosters open communication about mental health concerns.

Prioritizing mental health and well-being is crucial for nurses to sustain their passion, resilience, and dedication to their profession. By implementing self-care practices, setting boundaries, encouraging support, and seeking professional help when needed, nurses can enhance their mental well-being and continue to provide high-quality care to their patients. Ultimately, investing in the mental well-being of nurses not only promotes a healthier workforce but also improves patient outcomes. Remember that your well-being matters, and by prioritizing it, you're better equipped to carry out your passions and purpose, especially in the field of health care.

Mental Health-Friendly Nursing Jobs at Caring Support

Caring Support is an innovative, healthcare-dedicated talent acquisition platform designed to connect healthcare workers, especially nurses, with healthcare employers who value your mental well-being. We focus on supporting and empowering healthcare professionals by providing a user-friendly experience to help candidates explore job opportunities that align with their career goals and values.

Caring Support acknowledges the importance of mental health and well-being for healthcare workers and aims to foster a supportive environment within the healthcare industry. So, if you're in the nursing industry, create an account at Caring Support and find matches for your dream job today. If you already have an account, you can sign in here.

About The Author
Kate Piamonte
Content Writer

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