Depression & Nurses: A Closer Look At A Common Problem No One Wants To Talk About

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Depressed female African American nurse in blue scrubs sitting

Whether in a hospital or at a doctor’s appointment, nurses greet patients with a comforting warmth and kindness. Despite this, nurses are at risk of developing depression at twice the rate of a patient who does not work in the medical field. The problem is that despite lots of medical training, some nurses struggle with self-diagnosing a condition such as depression because they do not notice the symptoms.

Symptoms of Depression

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, many of the symptoms associated with depression are vague, including feeling exhausted, feeling empty, feeling distracted, feeling moody, or struggling with sleep. Nurses shrug off these symptoms, as they have a hectic job and lifestyle. This is a little ironic as nurses would also be the first individuals to tell a patient depression is not a condition to shrug off. Depression will slowly chip away at a nurse’s ability to perform daily tasks both at home and at work. In time, he or she loses any drive or motivation to keep working.

Secret Epidemic

When it comes to short staffing, a lack of medical staff support, or poor working conditions, nurses are open books. The same is not true of depression and other mental illnesses in the nursing field. Minority Nurse argues it is one of the best-kept secrets in this profession. Just shy of 20 percent of nurses suffer from depression, yet no one wants to open up about it. The question is – why is depression in nurses some big secret?


The first big reason why nurses ignore and hide depression is that a lot of people do not understand it. Misinformation causes discrimination against any nurses labeled with a mental illness, such as depression, as a nurse who is unable to do his or her job. With proper treatment, there is no reason why someone cannot live with depression and continue a career as a nurse.

The fact that depression is a secret epidemic in the nursing field is part of what makes it a more serious problem. Instead of getting treatment, nurses bury their depression, which only makes it worse. The longer the depression stays buried, the more crippling it becomes and the harder it becomes to treat.


An individual needs strength to take on the role of being a nurse. The misinformation about depression causes many people to see individuals who suffer from it as weak. This loops around into some thinking nurses who are depressed are unable to handle their job. It is the combination of misinformation and discrimination that results in depression in nursing to be such a hidden problem.

What Needs to Happen?

Nurses who experience any potential depression symptoms should make a doctor’s appointment. A nurse can prevent depression from controlling his or her life and career by taking proactive steps toward making an appointment and establishing a treatment plan as soon as possible.

Individuals who oversee a nursing staff should learn to recognize symptoms of depression. If possible, find a way to casually approach potentially depressed nurses. Depression plays a negative role in a nurse’s ability to provide care to his or her patients.

Treatment and Care

Depending on the severity of the depression, a nurse may need to take some time off work to get better. The manager of a nursing staff should provide a supportive work environment for nurses struggling with depression. Nurses need to know they can approach their boss about depression and request time off without it causing problems.

Depression is a crippling condition, but nurses and managers of nursing staff should not avoid or fear the condition. Awareness and acceptance of depression, followed by treatment, makes it possible for nurses to continue to do their job.

For additional information about depression among medical staff, visit our article, “Medical School and Mental Health: Depression Among Doctors.”

Share your thoughts on this important issue in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.
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1 year ago

I’ve found that nurses can be very judgmental if you disclose that you are being treated for depression. I have been made to feel that I should “get over it” as if were not a medical issue, rather a character flaw. This disease is as much a chronic issue as DM II or heart disease and person with depression should be treated with respect and understanding

Cara Friday, RN
2 years ago

Working in a psychiatry clinic we are acutely aware of the pain depression causes and the stigma that delays care. You can’t really fake depression- it’s real and disabling. Anti-depressants can work well if you ask for help without delay. I have seen amazing results with Ketamine infusions to rapidly stabilize a patient with SI and with TMS for medication-resistant MDD. Everyone is an individual-but the sooner you talk to a doctor you trust, the sooner you can find the treatment that gets you back in balance. There is no shame in a psychiatric illness – or there shouldn’t be.… Read more »

Maria Empie
2 years ago

I went for years with undiagnosed depression. It was only after I attempted suicide and ended up on life support that I was diagnosed with severe major depression. I was given no support from my manager and eventually had to quit my job and go on permanent disability. I was an excellent nurse well respected by my peers and my patients. I am now 57 and miss nursing very much but I cannot go back due to the severe stress caused by poor management, poor staffing and unrealistic workloads.

T.Miller R.N.
2 years ago

I liked this article on depression among healthcare workers-nurses. It is very enlightening and the reasons why it is prevalent and untreated are true.There is much discrimination pertaining to healthcare personnel. We are expected almost to be robotic and incapable of frailties, of feeling depression yet we see it and deal with it every day in our patients. The same prejudice is present with addiction/alcoholism. Thank you for bringing this out.

Irene lyles
2 years ago

Let’s face it. The one thing a nurse just can’t do without negative feedback is be sick. This is especially true with mental health issues. I have left work in tears so many times have just dreaded going to work to the point of nausea. But you can’t say that or in any way discuss your feelings except with your closest work friends. It is no wonder nurses burn out, get sick or just break. We are not just part of a machine. We have lives we very much want to enjoy and a real need to feel cared for… Read more »

2 years ago

Interesting how the suggested fix is to diagnose, take time off, and or medicate/counsel. I feel that the depresion is a human response to the treatment by peers, managers and facility. There us no mention of making sure nurses get a 30 minute break to eat, pee, & and not answer a call light or phone. Or to have adequate staff and responsibilities within reason… nope, instead lets suggest this is depression and an illness instead of a natural healthy response to an unjust amount of stress from too many riles placed on one caregiver over a 12.5 hr shift… Read more »

2 years ago

Maybe you can look into TMS? See my note.

2 years ago

I have had depression since I was a teen, and have tried various medications. I think we may have found the right cocktail for me after having to take a couple of leave of abnenses in the past. I am very fortunate that I have an understanding, confidential supervisor, and usually the work load is doable. I’m also looking into TMS – transcranial magnetic stimulation that has great reveiws, in fact some people have been completely able to stop all antidepressants. I had a visit with a TMS providor and it seems to be totally legitamate. It might be helpful… Read more »

2 years ago

I was diagnosed with depression in my late 20’s and have been on medication for it for years now. It is a very dark abyss that is not easy to climb out of. I find it is not so easy to discuss with my employer as even though I am a school nurse working in an elementary school, I have the same dilemma as most nurses. I cannot call in if I have a bad few days as there are not many subs willing to come stand in my place. There is still a stigma on depression regardless of the… Read more »

D Maclean
2 years ago

Yes,This is a topic that needs to be discussed more. As I age and deal with life stressors like sick family members,financial stressers,I am much less resilient and since being diagnosed at 45 (I am almost 57)it takes me much longer to recover from a hard busy shift.Depression as I age is much harder for me.I wish there was more support by hospitals to help us dealing with depression when we may need a mental health break to recharge ourselves.As a part time employee a I do not get paid when sick and so money pressures escalate more.If hospitals were… Read more »