Mental Health Support Strategies for Healthcare Personnel

On the surface, nursing jobs meet so many of the criteria that lead to workplace satisfaction. They can elevate a person’s community standing. Most people recognize and appreciate the services of all healthcare workers, but perhaps none more than nurses.

They provide a person with meaningful work that they can be proud of. In a world where workplace satisfaction is almost non-existent, that is an enormous benefit that can’t be ignored. They even command salaries well above the national median.

So why are nurses leaving the healthcare profession in droves? At the time of writing this, around half of all nurses starting today will have quit within the next five years.

A key reason: Burnout. Nursing is a stressful job. What can be done to address the mental health needs of healthcare workers?

Understanding the Problem

Nurses report heightened rates of stress, depression, and anxiety. A wellness survey conducted by the American Nurses Foundation revealed that 40% of nurses say they experience feelings of depression. For context, rates of depression among the general population hover at around 14%.

That’s a MAJOR difference— one that could account for the high turnover rate in nursing almost on its own.

What about the job is so difficult for people to process from a mental health perspective? Nurses:

  • See life at its hardest. When your job is to take care of people during what may very well be the hardest thing they’ve ever gone through, you may naturally find that their pain influences the way you feel. The extent to which this is the case will depend on the job. School nurses, for example, do not experience nearly as much trauma as those working in the hospice setting. Still, it remains a fact that most people who come before a nurse are there because something went wrong in their life.
  • Nurses deal with death much more often than the general population. Imagine that you’ve been taking care of a patient for the last two weeks. You aren’t friends, of course. Though you see them in an incredibly intimate setting, your relationship is strictly professional. Still, you feel like you know them. You’ve met their kids. Witnessed their fears and their vulnerabilities. You’ve come to enjoy popping into their room, knowing they will have a kind word or even a joke. Think about what it would feel like to watch that person die. Nurses have that experience all the time. Afterward, they don’t sit down with a therapist or social worker. They may not have any time at all to process their feelings. They keep working and then go home to people who can’t possibly understand what it is like to deal with death every day.
  • The job is stressful. Nurses make decisions that could mean life or death for their patients. That’s an enormous burden— one that very naturally translates into heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

To make matters worse, the working conditions that most nurses experience don’t translate well into good mental health. They work twelve-hour shifts, sometimes at night or on weekends and holidays. They are always on their feet. Work-life balance can be tricky.

These factors accumulate into a work environment that doesn’t produce ideal mental health conditions. What can be done about it?

Modifying Working Conditions

One of the simplest fixes is to give nurses scheduling options that are more conducive to their mental health. Twelve-hour shifts are designed mostly for administrative purposes. It’s easier to plan for two-shift rotations than it would be for three or four.

Admittedly, some nurses like this arrangement. While your work days are crazy, it gives you more flexibility with the rest of your week. When you only work three out of every seven days, it’s easier to plan trips and enjoy more time with your family.

However, the cons may very well outweigh the pros. The human mind is only designed to sustain high levels of concentration for around four hours a day. That doesn’t mean you are a zombie the rest of the time. It does mean you have a limited window to produce your best work. Is it wise to have healthcare workers so far exceeding that window?

Hospitals that switch to shorter scheduling sequences may boost the quality of concerns while improving patient outcomes.

Providing Mental Health Resources

It can also help simply to connect nurses with more opportunities to address their mental health needs. For example, counselors who are available when the job gets hard. Supplementary services (health, fitness, mindfulness) designed to elevate overall quality of life.

Even communication channels among hospital staff make it easier for nurses to vent. Many nurses lack social outlets for their work-related stress. Providing that sense of community could boost retention and improve the way nurses feel about their work.

Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs are particularly valuable for new hires but can be useful for any working nurse. They provide that valuable social outlet mentioned earlier, but they also connect new hires or struggling professionals with someone who can relate to their concerns and provide good advice.

Businesses that implement robust mentorship programs typically experience much higher employee retention than those that do not. Why? The employees feel more comfortable with their work.


There isn’t much that can be done about the core mental health challenges that are baked into nursing. Nurses have constant difficult experiences. It’s just part of the job description. However, hospitals can do more to help them by providing a robust support network.

Do mentorship programs or group communication apps take the pain away when a patient dies? Of course not. Taken together, however, these considerations can produce a better overall work environment. The key is to give healthcare professionals the tools they need to feel better on and off the job.

Doing so will not only improve retention but also boost patient outcomes.

With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.