The Mental Health Picture in Nursing

Posted on 12 November 2021

Nursing is undoubtedly a stressful profession, and with the additional pressure created through the pandemic, there’s been a large focus on what the effects of such stress will be on nurses across the UK.

Nearly one quarter of sickness absence for nursing staff is due to anxiety, stress, and depression, and almost two-thirds of nurses feel that their mental health has deteriorated since the initial peak of the pandemic.

Where does the issue lie, and what can be done to tackle mental health in nursing?

The outlook

Though the pandemic has seemingly receded somewhat, the mental health picture still remains as a point of concern for nursing.

Of those who responded to a survey, 44% described their mental health and wellbeing as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’, which is a 10% rise on the 2020 survey, and 62% felt their mental health was ‘worse’ or ‘much worse’ now than it was last spring during the early spike.

Stress is also a significant area, with 84% of respondents rating themselves as either ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’ more stressed or anxious than before the pandemic began.

There are a few potential reasons for this.

Why is the mental health picture worsening in nursing?

As with many professions that suffer from high burnout rates and increased mental health concerns, nursing is a fast-paced environment that seemingly never comes to a standstill.

Nurses have been functioning at full capacity for an extended duration, without having much time to stop and discuss their mental health or acknowledge it.

Due to increased workload, many nurses are missing out on vital practices that impact their wellbeing such as rest breaks and eating properly.

This is all in addition to the new stressors as a result of the pandemic, such as dealing with the death of patients who were alone due to coronavirus restrictions, or coping with Covid-19-related illness and/or death of colleagues or family members and friends.

Highlighting existing concerns

For many nurses, stress and anxiety has always been present in their profession.

Putting the needs of patients first has always been central to how nurses function, however, so are we simply just seeing issues that existed before the pandemic being highlighted as a result of it?

In previous infectious disease epidemics, nurses reported the highest levels of occupational stress compared to other groups, so it comes as no surprise that the pandemic has exacerbated the issue.

Without immediate action, nurses could consider leaving their profession, which would only further the issues around workforce shortages.

What can nurses do?

The emphasis isn’t solely on nurses to manage their mental health and wellbeing, yet for many, it is the reasonable first step.

Prioritising your own wellbeing and mental health can begin with basics, such as ensuring:

  • You take all rest breaks given

  • You eat something substantial during breaks

  • You have a full night’s sleep where possible

  • You make time for recuperation when outside of work

Outside of this, you cannot underestimate the value that peer support can bring, particularly since nursing is such a collective profession that relies on solid teamwork.

It can be hard to focus on your own wellbeing when your job revolves around caring for others, which is why colleagues can offer much-needed support by virtue of the fact they can provide accountability.

One of the best ways to utilise peer support is actually the simplest – talk.

By talking to your colleagues, you’re finding validation in how you relate to each other’s issues.

This can be done during shared breaks, team check-ins or handovers, which can be far more convenient than trying to create separate space for such interactions, giving you a chance to reciprocate each other’s support.

The future of mental health for nurses

When looking at the mental health outlook for nurses, it may seem daunting and concerning.

However, if we look at it in terms of the stress response curve, it’s understandable why the outlook looks as it does currently.

The stress response curve refers to an individual who initially functions at a high level and copes with efficiency, yet when an increase of stress occurs, can be considered ‘strained’ and this might lead to burnout.

Interventions can largely minimise the potential for burnout to occur.

As mentioned above, the actions that an individual can take towards managing their own mental health and wellbeing can go a long way in minimising the damage that can occur due to high stress.

Another method that nurses can utilise is a mental (or physical) list of priorities, which can cover: your health, concerns at work, patient conditions, work-related issues/concerns, etc.

Once this list has been detailed, you can begin to cross off that which you can’t immediately influence or change – then you focus solely on what you can control, which can significantly reduce feelings of overwhelm.

If nurses begin to utilise this advice, in combination with the renewed emphasis on supporting nursing staff with their mental health, the picture may become more optimistic in time.

To summarise

It’s been a difficult year for nurses, and though much has returned to a semblance of normalcy through the pandemic, many nurses are still handling high stress and increased workloads.

Their effort isn’t going unnoticed, however, and mental health is a hot topic for a reason – many in the healthcare industry know how important it is to ensure that nurses are looked after in the same way that they look after others.

By taking small steps to manage their own mental health and wellbeing, whilst also offering and benefitting from peer support, nurses can slowly begin to reduce their stress as other options become more clearly available.

If anything, the pandemic has pushed the mental health of nurses higher on the agenda than it has ever been before, as society recognises the immense pressure and stress that nurses have coped with to benefit society at large.

Get in touch with the T2 Healthcare team today by calling 0203 002 6305, or emailing, to find out how we can help you.​

Share this article