Breaking The Mental Health Taboo In The Nursing Industry

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

It’s estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that one in four people will suffer from a severe mental health problem at some point in our lives – including depression, high levels of stress, or anxiety and panic attacks, among other issues.

And though the climate of mental health is becoming more open, and people are feeling more free to discuss their mental struggles without the stigma that has been present in the past, there are still many people who hide their mental struggles, especially in the workplace. This is common among all industries – but especially in the high-stress, demanding work environment of the typical hospital.

While there is no evidence to show that nurses are more likely to suffer from mental health issues than any other person, the environment of a hospital and the attitudes of other nurses can often make it hard to share the issues that you’re going through.

After all, we nurses are supposed to be caregivers – not require care to function. For a nurse, being honest about the fact that stress or depression is having an effect on our lives can often feel the same as admitting failure.

But what can be done? In this article, we’ll look at several ways that the mental health taboo can be broken in the nursing industry – and in the workplace at large.

First, Release The Pressure

The workplace may not be the primary cause of stress or mental issues in most of our lives, but often, a high-stress work environment can be a contributing factor. An over-emphasis on performance at all costs, and at professional improvement over personal well-being isn’t just common in the business world – it’s common in nursing too.

This kind of attitude can compound with the naturally high-stress environment of a nurse, and lead to severe mental issues that may go unnoticed – until it’s too late.

However, steps can be taken towards a healthier nursing environment. Flexible scheduling is helpful – allowing nurses to determine their workload in a more proactive way can lead to reduced stress and a lower risk of mental health issues.

Supervisors and nurse administrators should also be aware of warning signs that nurses are stressed – and allow them the space that they need, to decompress. If you’re a nurse administrator and you see a nurse who is really struggling, approach them. Let them know that you understand the difficulties and trials that they’re going through, and that it’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Creating a lower-stress environment allows nurses a way to more easily express the toll that their work is taking on their mental state – and this can allow administrative staff to take appropriate action before the condition of nurses deteriorates.

Don’t Hide The Truth

If you are a nurse who is struggling with mental health issues, you are not alone – and you don’t have to hide.

You’re a nurse. You know what happens to someone who has diabetes and it doesn’t get treated – they go blind, lose their extremities, and suffer other severe physical symptoms. The fact that your illness is mental doesn’t change the fact that it exists – and that it won’t get better unless you seek treatment.

Speak to your supervisor about your mental health issues. The most pernicious thing about mental health problems is that they can’t always be readily seen. If you’re over stressed and anxious and having panic attacks every day, your supervisor may not even know.

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step toward treatment, and though it’s difficult for nurses (especially male nurses) to admit that they may have a problem, it’s absolutely crucial that they seek treatment when appropriate.

Don’t Be Ashamed

Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed about. Just like any other disease, they can be mitigated, treated, and even cured. The first step is admitting to yourself that you need help and that you are willing to seek it – openly.

The mental health taboo in the nursing industry – and the workplace at large – stems from an unwillingness to communicate about the importance of mental health. From the perceived shame of needing help.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Standing up and admitting that you are overstressed, anxious, or depressed is the first step to creating a dialogue about the mental health conditions in the nursing industry.

Be brave. Be bold. And never be ashamed of your mental health issues. They do not define you – and they are not permanent.

Break The Taboo By Taking These Steps To A Healthier Workplace – And A Healthier You

Whether you’re having mental health issues or know another nurse who is struggling, you can break the taboo of discussing mental health in the workplace. Working together is the only means by which we can truly break free of the stigma that discussing mental health issues often carries in the nursing industry.

So focus on your mental health and that of your coworkers. Together, we can make the workplace a happier and less stressful place for everyone – and focus on delivering incredible patient care in a supportive, friendly environment. And that’s what we all want.

So be honest, be truthful, and never be ashamed of who you are – even if you’re struggling. That’s the first step towards success and to a better life.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. Sadly all around we are experiencing the products of a society/professions/and administrations that have not ethically addressed the holistic needs of the practitioner. Be it Dr. or Nurse we are naive to believe it is ok to report any MH issues without negative consequence and often licensure tracking/monitoring. We are the very antithesis of what we should stand for in health care. We cannot model for our patients or the public at large what self-care is and at worst we have individuals, in an attempt to survive, practicing at a less than optimum state. In many ways we remain in the dark ages on this issue and dangerously delude ourselves into the belief that we are growing. We as licensed professionals need to ethically take a long hard look at the power structure we have in place and and question ourselves regarding the effectiveness of our work.

  2. I was working on a Med Surg Unit that had high acuity patients all the time and would get back to back violent patients. I expressed that I was burnt out, anxious, and depressed to my manager and basically didn’t care. The violent patients were mostly males only and on individual assignments that made it more mentally exhausting. There was such a emphasis on “patients in crisis,” but dismissed the well being of the caregivers that could be in crisis themselves. It is important to work for an institution and manager that makes employee needs a priority.

  3. Dear Lord, I feel like a burden was lifted off my shoulder after reading all these responses. Every respond at some point sounds like me and many nurses out there. It is more sad for me as I am buried in student loans. I just completed my masters in March this year and want to say I regret adding to my already existing student loans. Taking up a position in leadership may make my loans payment worst as there will be no overtime opportunity which mean continue to work as floor nurse and deal with all the above mentioned for the rest of my life? I have missed out on the beauty of life with family since 2011. I am turning to God in prayers to lead me to the right direction. Thanks to all of you for venting openly. I do not feel alone now.

  4. I work in the Mental Health field and I still experience the negative connotations that even certified professionals have with stigmatizing mental illness. Very disheartening since we are still not advanced in the knowledge and understanding of such a sometimes debilitating condition. I have at times feel tempted to get NAMI involved😔

  5. I appreciate the sentiment of the article, however, the author is naive to think that nurses can be open about mental stressors let alone mental illness. In my home state, it is disqualifying for an RN, and it would adversely effect job performance ratings in every state I have worked in. Also, I take issue with the comment that it is more detrimental for male nurses to acknowledge mental stressors as it has been my experience over the past 30 years that male nurses are rated higher, paid more, and cut more slack, in general, than female nurses.

  6. I am a now-disabled nurse with bipolar 1 disorder who made the mistake—twice—of disclosing my illness to management. I lost both of those jobs, ostensibly because of performance issues but mostly because they saw me as a liability and picked me apart at every opportunity. Yes, I found nursing very, very stressful, but if I’d received reasonable accommodations under the ADA for my disorder I’d probably still be working. Mental illness is still very much in the closet in the medical world, and until attitudes change it will be impossible to disclose and not be at risk for harassment or job loss. I’m stable now, but if I were ever to work in nursing again, I’d do my level best NEVER to let anyone know I’m ill. Nothing good ever comes of it.

  7. When I first became a nurse you could actually be prohibited from sitting for the exam or renewing your license if you had ever sought mental health care. It is still a concern for us “older nurses” that we might be admonished in some way even to the point of restricting our licenses. It was actually a question on the renewal form asking whether, if this your last renewal, you had received care. I’m glad to see people encouraging Nurses to decompress and even be appropriately treated for the side effects of our high stress, high anxiety profession.

  8. I feel there is a real disconnect in how employers handle employees with a known mental health issue. My immediate supervisor is unable to perform her job mentally or physically. It seems everyone is aware, but nothing is being done. Our department is in danger of being phased out due to her lack of day-to-day management. She is rarely physically in the office and has told all employees, including the medical staff that she can only be reached by text. I also work in one of the doctor’s office who has privileges at the hospital as well as being an employee at the hospital as a nurse educator. The doctor has mentioned several times to me that he is uncomfortable communicating only by text. I have heard similar complaints from other physicians. Her staff has repeatedly brought our concerns to her immediate supervisor as well as going up the chain of command, and our concerns are ignored.
    Has anyone else faced a similar situation? Any suggestions on how to handle this? Where do we go from here? I am a 32 year employee of this hospital and would hate to end my career there on such a sour note. My intention has been to retire from this position in a few years, but I am seriously rethinking decision. In a nutshell, my work environment is no longer a desirable place to be.

  9. For the thousands of nurses who are tired of the hospital rat race, I have an off the wall suggestion. Try correctional nursing! Correctional nurses are the gateway to the medical system in jails, prisons, and juvenile detention facilities. LPNs, RNs, and ARNPs are all welcomed with open arms. Dealing with families is very rare, no “waitressing” involved, and the dreaded patient satisfaction surveys don’t exist. It is just you, the inmate, and a hippa certified officer. No one is ever alone with an inmate.
    I have never been mandated to come in for overtime, never sent home early due to a low census. Good insurance, pay depends on the state you live in or the company sub-contracting the medical dept. PTO is generous.
    I have a blast every single day! Every day is different. The facility I work in has low acuity (generally). Good assessment skills are very helpful. Lots of mystery illnesses come in through sick call. One guy told me he had exploding appendix….after he walked the entire compound to get to medical. Another came in c/o chest pains…..ekg wnl….vitals wnl…..couldn’t pick a number between 1-10 for a pain level. Struggling to answer every day questions. This man was a doctor before he was incarcerated. Hmmmm altered mental status…???? Sent him out…turned out he had meningitis..can’t remember if it was viral or bacterial. The point is, you just never know what is going to walk in the door.
    This specialty is not for everyone. Try it PRN! You may find it is just what you need to recoup your love of nursing.

    • I briefly worked in correctional nursing. It was not what you described at all! Maybe it was the location or the ‘corporate’ mentality, but I needed a scorecard to tell the staff from the patient inmates!
      One nurse abandoned me in the hall enroute to a lock-up where we were scheduled to pass meds – during inmate transition! That is when the tightly orchestrated movement of groups of inmates from one area to another happens. Nurses asking directions with a fully loaded med cart are not looked on favorably.
      Another locked me in an un-air conditioned med room on a 95 degree day. My ventilation for a 3 hr med pass was a 6” sq gated window.
      Every evening was an adventure in critical thinking skills – how do I extricate myself and stay safe? Definitely not my cup of tea. I bailed within a couple of weeks. And yes, I went to management, who told me to write a statement, “We’ve been trying to pin something on (him/her) for years.” I got the message.

  10. In Response to Sadly Anonymous,

    Thank you for writing such a passionate, transparent, and gripping account. I don’t perceive you as complaining. I recognize you as one of the many “drained, exhausted, and burned out” nurses expressing a sincere cry for help. Yours is the voice of a new and disenchanted generation. And yet, the stories are all the same; only the names have changed. Legions have gone before you, but they were disregarded.
    How long will reports of “constant pressure to do too many duties in too little time” be ignored? How many times will we be told to “document the same information in multiple places?”
    There’s something very wrong with a healthcare system that breaks down decent, compassionate, and hardworking people like you. When people like you lose their faith in something that they once believed in, that is our biggest problem.
    Your passion is gone. You feel stuck. You feel like there is no hope in sight. Where will you go? To whom will you turn? And what about the countless others just like you? What are they to do? Not many people can do what you do, and the many who can, have lost their desire.
    However, the world needs nurses – desperately.
    Keep holding on. Don’t fall off. Don’t isolate yourself. Transform your feelings of despair into energy. Then fight your way out! Lead others to do the same. You have already begun this charge by sharing your compelling story.
    Moreover, I sense there is still much fight you. Your words resonate with me. You inspire me, and you can inspire others. You can galvanize the power of many, through the power of one.
    Be the one.
    Refuse to be disregarded. Make your voice heard. I heard you today, and I am very impressed!

  11. You have said it very well.
    I am a nurse of 40 years at the end of my career and I am having the same feelings and despair.
    I am in shock with the younger generations and their attitudes and demands. To the point I am sick of it.
    It deeply saddens me that I have spent my career Irving all I have/had to come to the end and deal with the stress, workload and burn out.
    I also am discouraging close family and friends to not go into nursing.

  12. Reading the comment from “sadly anonymous” brought back all the stressors I’ve experienced in the nursing field. When I worked I the hospital, there was little to no support from coworkers when you wanted to say, “Enough is enough.” One major complainer got a promotion and when I refused to work overtime told me I really shouldn’t plan to do other things on days when I worked that department! Nurses were very disrespectful and condescending to anyone who tried to buck the abusive system of too many patients and not enough nurses. I guess if they had to do it, everyone else had to as well. Want to decrease your stress, control your hours, and increase your pay? Become an agency nurse. If you feel you and/or your patients aren’t getting the necessary resources to do the job, fulfill your contract and leave. The nursing shortage is coming around again and those of us who are nurses know why.

  13. 3-16-16
    The epidemic of severely depressed, anxiety ridden and the burned out nurse. This is my story, and many,many coworkers as well. We are critically understaffed, overloaded with mounds of paperwork. We literally have the lives of our patients in our hands.
    We started out as eager young students, it was our passion and drive to help other people. Over the years, we became drained exhausted and burned out. There was constant pressure to do too many duties and too little time, and document in multiple different places, the same information.
    I now tell people wanting to get into the field, “don’t do it!”because it’s not worth the long exhausting hours with very little support. I don’t get to do the things that I started out doing, patient care… The more educated I became, the more paperwork and the administrative duties took over. I gave up my life for my job which I first had a passion for and now can’t fathom continuing on. Some people get into nursing for the money, but it’s not worth it.
    10 years after my bachelors degree… After which I swore I’d never go to school again… I obtained my masters degree as a nurse practitioner, however at that time there were no jobs open in my small town in my field which is women’s health.
    The passion is long gone and I feel empty inside.I hear the story over and over again from frustrated coworkers, and there doesn’t seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. I have very few friends, tend to isolate, detach from the world, and feel like I have to hold onto the grass to keep from falling off the earth.
    I don’t know which direction to go from here that would fulfill my passion.
    I know I’m not the only one out there who feels this way. I just want to express where I am in my career and hope to get some feedback from others in the same situation. Thank you for reading, and I don’t mean to complain, however, I feel very stuck and I am hoping someone out there, I know the nurse can help me get on the right path to a happy, fulfilled, and balanced life.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Lack of Sleep Tampers With Your Emotions

Cranky or grumpy after a long night? Your brain's ability to regulate emotions is probably compromised by fatigue. This is bad news for 30...

The No. 1 Key To Success As A Nurse

There is a lot of advice out there about how you should enter, develop and progress in nursing. Do you get your feet wet by...

What Will You Do After Nursing?

Have you been considering a change of career? Nursing can be an incredibly stressful job. After the onset of Covid-19 and the struggles of...