Urgent need to provide more care for health-care workers

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Something frightening is happening to our health-care students and providers.

“A Roadmap to Decreasing Clinician Burnout” published in Hospitals and Health Networks in May, reported that more than 50 percent of nurses are emotionally exhausted and 25 percent are clinically depressed.

In “Breaking the Culture of Silence on Physician Suicide” (2016) The National Academy of Medicine found that about 400 physicians take their lives each year, and that they are more than twice as likely to take their own lives as non-physicians. Female physicians are three times more likely to kill themselves than male physicians.

The American College of Health Association 2015 Annual Report found that 17 percent of health-care college students are depressed, 50 percent who seek mental-health counseling have been seen before, 34 percent are on mental health medication(s), and 25 percent have self-injured.

To understand what was going on here, the University of Kentucky College of Nursing conducted a survey of 160 nursing sophomores. The sophomore year of nursing school, when clinical rotations begin, is a critical and busy time. The survey found 27 percent of sophomores were taking a medication for a mental-health disorder and 30 percent reported dealing with a mental-health condition.

Most students reported levels of stress as eight and nine on a scale of one to 10. The survey also showed that few were taking advantage of on-campus mental-health resources, in which UK is investing heavily.

In response, our students organized Student Mentors Advocating for Student Health on the premise that peer-to-peer support and faculty involvement can help dissolve the stigma of mental-health disorders and encourage nursing students to seek help.

Although there’s much uncertainty about the future of our health-care system, we can look to these students who are finding creative ways to support each other and overcome the challenges of their profession.

For more than two decades, research has shown the value of resiliency practices to reduce stress, increase awareness through focused attention in the present moment, decrease harmful neuro-immunological reactions and improve cardiovascular function and quality of life. These include:

▪  Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

▪  Eat well-balanced meals with whole foods, fruits and vegetables.

▪  Drink 64 ounces of water a day.

▪  Exercise at least 30 minutes five days a week.

▪  Practice being more fully present and attentive in as many moments as possible.

▪  Nourish heart and soul with frequent spiritual and/or family and friends engagement/activities.

▪  Schedule each day at least 30 minutes to meditate/practice yoga/reflect silently or in writing or listen to music.

▪  Keep a gratitude journal documenting three things you’re grateful for or that went well in your day.

▪  Avoid ruminating about negative situations.

We have an obligation to address our own self-care so that we can be more fully present, more focused, more empathetic and less emotionally exhausted. This is not only good for the health-care workforce but also for the health of those we serve.

Janie Heath is dean and Warwick Professor of Nursing at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing.