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May 13, 2020
We’ve all seen and heard about communities and businesses stepping up to show their appreciation for nurses during COVID-19. Free coffee, discounted meals and the banging of pots and pans in the street. It’s Nurse Appreciation week (May 11-17th) and people are encouraged to recognize the work nurses do on the front lines.
Can outsiders truly understand the sacrifice, the fears and the challenges nurses face? How do those feelings affect their mental health? And how can we as friends and family members support them in a meaningful way?
Nurses are important providers of treatment and care on the front lines. In most countries, nurses are actually the largest group of professionals providing care to others (Developing Nursing Resources for Mental Health, 2010). They are more likely to experience compassion fatigue and the added pressures of COVID-19 only exacerbate those stressors (HealthLeaders, n.d.). On top of that, nurses are feeling fear and anxiety due to a range of issues such as insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), the risk of being exposed to the virus and the very real possibility of bringing the virus home to their families.
There can also be a sense of powerlessness. In an interview with Kirsten McCartney, a front line nurse at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, she expressed her own concern over going in to work risking her own health,which can sometimes lead to resentment towards people who do not follow physical distancing protocols (K. McCartney, 2020). Over extended periods of time these strong feelings can lead to anxiety and depression (HealthLeaders, n.d.). How can we as family and friends support the resiliency of our loved ones working on the front lines?
We’ve all heard about self care, and this might seem a bit trite at first. But encouraging your loved one on the front lines to take care of themselves when they come home is one of the most important things you can do. Juggling the stresses of homeschooling, housework and stressful job demands over time can be detrimental to a nurse’s mental health. Here are some things you can encourage the nurse in your life to take time for:
Don’t underestimate the value of an uninterrupted nap, doing a load of laundry, going with them to walk the dog or packing a healthy lunch for them to take to work. Time to decompress and do something they enjoy with people they love can be extremely beneficial for their mental health (HeathLeaders, n.d.).
Listen to your nurse friend or family member. Be ready to hear what they have to say without trying to fix anything or challenging them on the new rule of the day. Acknowledge the fear and anxiety they are feeling.
With physical distancing measures, keep in mind they may not have the same support network at work they are used to. Lunches and coffee breaks with colleagues have been put on hold, so isolation at work can be very real for our front line nurses (K. McCartney, 2020).
There may be times when nurses prefer to express anxieties and feelings to co-workers who better appreciate what they are going through. If this happens, don’t be offended. Let them know you’re there for them if they need you. (Canada’s Nurses, 2020).
If you notice the nurse in your life is voicing hopelessness or unable to cope, encourage them to talk to people they trust about their concerns. There are some great free resources available:
Be informed on what the current status of COVID-19 is and what the current physical distancing rules are from trusted sources. There is nothing more frustrating for nurses than having a disagreement with a friend or family member on what you can or can’t do based on a misinformed post on social media (K. McCartney, 2020). Refer to the guidelines found on the Alberta Government website, Alberta Health Services or the World Health Organization to be up to date on the latest recommendations and guidelines.
Follow physical distancing rules and hygiene etiquette. With the rules changing all the time, and businesses starting to open up over the next few weeks, our nurses are dealing with more and more uncertainty everyday. They are worried for their own safety and what the relaxing of the rules might bring. Seeing people out and about disregarding the recommended guidelines can bring on a lot of resentment, fear and even anger. Small things like wearing a mask out while shopping, washing your hands upon entering a store when possible and respecting the rules set out by the province show nurses that you care for their safety. You may not realize it, but they notice!
While lunches out, boxes of donuts and free coffees are nice, really what our nurses need is continued support for the valuable work they do. Recognition that they are putting themselves and their families at risk every day being at work is important. Be vocal and sincere when thanking your family and friends on the front lines. Do it often!
“Compassion, Expertise, Trust” – this is the theme of this year’s Nurses’ Appreciation Week (Canadian Nurses Association, n.d.). Thank each and every one of them in your life for exhibiting the true meaning of these words. Take the time to support your friends and family working as nurses this week and acknowledge the real sacrifice they are making to help us all during this pandemic. They deserve it!
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health distress during this time, please call 211
(Alberta only) or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.