Despite how rewarding the nursing profession is, nursing also has a significantly higher rate of physical and mental health issues. In fact, some studies have shown that almost half of all nurses suffer from depression, anxiety and other physical ailments such as back strain and the more obvious cold and flu bugs.
Studies have also shown that those who are dealing with mental health issues, such as depression, stress or anxiety, tend to have a significantly higher rate of reported medical errors. While making mistakes is a normal part of life, for some nurses the consequences that come from making these mistakes can be much higher than most other professions.
Since depression in nurses and other medical professions is a key predictor for the potential of medical errors, the subject of mental health needs to be addressed by nurses and hospital administrators. It should also be noted, that hospital administrators who work together with their medical staff to reduce the stigma that is often associated with mental health will be much more effective at creating a healthy workplace. This will not only help their staff by keeping them healthy both mentally and physically, it will also help their patients by reducing the possibility of medical errors and increasing the quality of patient care.
Simply implementing a few changes to the work environment, hospitals could see a drastic change in the morale of their nursing staff, reduce absence, lower stress and reduce the number of staff who battle mental health issues. All of these things will ultimately improve patient relations and more importantly, see a drop in the amount of medical error reports.
Building a culture of well-being
Workplace wellness could be called trendy these days. It seems that everyone from manufacturers, to corporate office towers, to hospitals are recognizing the importance of having a well-rested, happy and healthy work staff. Building a culture of well-being may take a bit of time to get off the ground, but it’s really quite simple to do.
One of the biggest factors in keeping healthy both mentally and physically is to get enough sleep. For nurses who sometimes have to work long shifts throughout the day and night, this can be challenging. By allowing and encouraging more workplace flexibility nurses can hopefully find better a better work/life balance, reduce stress and improve mental health. This can be done by implementing a flexible work schedule, or reducing the amount of long shifts that nurses are required to work each week.
Another idea is to run wellness programs that allow staff to take classes or join clubs that are geared towards improving both mental and physical health. It’s amazing the difference that a break-time walking club can make. By walking together as a group for 20 minutes a few times a week, nurses will have the opportunity to talk to one another and move their bodies, two things that are known for helping to reduce depression and anxiety.
Having access to an employee support program will not only provide the right information on how to improve mental health, but will also provide resources that are accessible 24/7. Sometimes, just knowing that help is simply a call, or click away, can make it easier for nurses or other medical professionals seek help when they feel they need it.
Screening is just as important as treatment
Many times, hospital administration will focus on providing treatment options for their staff struggling with poor mental health. They will hire counselors to work with staff to not only talk about their condition but also provide ideas on how to improve mental health and cope with depression and anxiety. All this is great and certainly should continue but, these programs tend to be set-up for members of staff who have already been diagnosed a condition, such as stress or depression. What about those who are unaware that there might be a problem?
Someone who might be in the throes of depression might still look like they are functioning normally but a closer look might reveal a person who is withdrawn from their work, someone who seems to making more mistakes at work and giving the impression that they are letting their work get sloppy. Without intervention this could lead to a disaster that could be devastating for patients and for the nurse who may be silently struggling.
This is why optional screening programs are critical to creating a healthy workplace and to ensure that anyone who could potentially become depressed or develop anxiety be proactive in accessing help. Nurses who are able to access screening programs in the workplace rather than having to make an appointment with their primary care physician are also more likely to participate in screening programs.
Reducing stigma reducing errors
One of the biggest challenges that a workplace faces when building a culture of well-being is the stigma that is still very strongly attached to mental health. This is particularly true for nurses and other medical professionals. In fact, the stigma around mental health and the fear that one’s career might be compromised by admitting they are struggling, are the two main reasons that many times, these things are not reported.
While screening programs will reduce the amount of cases that go unreported, it does not reduce the stigma that is attached to poor mental health. This comes from education and the best way to educate people about mental health is to talk about it. Host information sessions for staff or invite nurses to develop subject specific lunch and seminars for colleagues.
Talking about mental health and providing the right resources to nurses on staff will not only educate people, but can also dispel the many myths that come along with workplace mental health.
Mistakes will happen but some are preventable
When it comes to workplace mistakes, nurses and other medical professionals should never be afraid to admit that they happen. However, taking some time to look at the number of medical errors, when and where they are happening and trying to get the bottom of why they happen can actually save many lives.
A mistake that is made is not a red flag that something more is afoot however, but a sudden increase in workplace errors could mean that something more is happening. If that is the case, the first place that hospital administrators should look is at the well-being of their nursing staff.
Depression and anxiety are common place and so are mistakes, but it should be noted that working towards improving the mental health of the nurses on staff will go a long way to reducing medical errors.