I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, even if the rest of my family didn’t think it was a good idea. I moved away from home as soon as I could and even found a part-time job to pay for my own education. It was rough back then. I remember going to class bright and early before attending shifts in the afternoon. I would always bring books with me so I could study during my breaks. When I got home at night, I would burn extra hours to study for any upcoming tests, or go over any material I wasn’t confident with.
So I studied, worked, cried a little, but eventually graduated. Mission accomplished, Itold myself. Nothing could go wrong.
How wrong was I!
Nursing school was hard, and I soon found that nursing itself is even more difficult. Our bodies can only expend so much energy before they collapse. The countless hours I poured into work is a constant reminder of the looming nurse shortage that plagues the United States (1), and how understaffed we were. And the patients – no matter how genuine I tried to be – sometimes resorted to verbal abuse. Everyone was so busy there was no one to talk to, and I often found myself too tired to feel any source of fulfillment or joy. I was depressed, though I was too scared to admit it to myself after everything I had gone through to get there.
One night, I came across this article (2) on Thrive Global that explored the high percentage of hospital-employed nurses who are suffering from depression. The report also revealed how half of us are even considering quitting the profession.
And for the first time ever, I realized I wasn’t alone in this fight.
Since that day, I began looking at my colleagues differently. I wondered if their hearts, too, are bothered by the same dark feeling mine was shrouded in, or if they truly enjoy going to work surrounded by this depressive atmosphere.
It’s true what my fellow Acacia writer Hanna Boleman (3) expresses in her piece: “Pain is subjective, relative, and experienced by everyone.”
I’m not sure when it happened exactly — when I started initiating some mindful conversation in the staff room to quell the silence. I remember telling them about my initial fears of getting into the profession, how my parents were pressuring me to get another degree, and how I firmly told them that this is what I wanted. I guess, sharing my thoughts must have triggered something in them, too, because suddenly I know more about their struggles and personal triumphs, big and small. These have helped me comprehend my own thoughts and process the events around me.
And this all made sense, in hindsight, given the challenges those in our profession are facing. In their industry outlook for nurses, Maryville University (4) notes that not only is there a shortage among nurses in hospitals and schools, but we’re also facing an increasingly complicated healthcare system and an impending lack of doctors. On top of that, the job is only getting harder, while the required standards in our work are only getting higher. Faced with all these circumstances, it’s easy to give up. But we nurses are some of the most stubborn people on the planet. After all, how else do we get the most uncooperative patients to eat their meals? How do you think we even passed nursing school in the first place?
With no one to reach out to, we started reaching out for each other. Sharing my pain, and seeing them persevere despite theirs, has helped all of us rise above the dark clouds that haunt our professional and even personal lives.
It’s okay to be embarrassed about being depressed some times — I mean, I was, too. But the only way you’re going to be able to combat this isolating disease is by realizing that not only are there people who are willing to listen and help, but you also deserve to receive that support. It doesn’t have to be your colleagues; it could be your family, friends, or even online acquaintances. Accept all the support that’s given to you, and when you have it, share it with everyone else. And if you happen to wear the symbol of medicine on your scrubs like I do, Asclepius knows how much we all need it.
Author, Arabella Walsh
(1) Tyczkowski, B. L., & Reilly, J. (2017). DNP-Prepared Nurse Leaders: Part of the Solution to the Growing Faculty Shortage. JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration, 47(7/8), 359–360. doi: 10.1097/nna.0000000000000494
(2) Harris, C. (2018, October 10). Why Depression Is Causing Nurses To Leave The Profession. Retrieved from https://thriveglobal.com/stories/nursing-depression-burnout/.
(3) Theory of (Pain) Relativity, Hanna Boleman