Healing Hands, Healing Hearts: Advocating for Nurses’ Mental Health

You probably know a nurse or someone who was once one. Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system, working tirelessly to ensure the well-being of others.


Nurses work long shifts in hectic work environments and carry the emotional weight of caring for patients. Between understaffing, heavy patient loads, ineffective leadership, and too many administrative duties outside their scheduled shifts, many nurses live on the edge of burnout.


“Feelings of distress can be expressed in trouble sleeping, nightmares, feeling irritable, wanting to be alone, sudden emotions or even physical pain or symptoms,” according to The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).


We’re exploring the unique challenges nurses face, how they can best care for themselves, and the possible changes healthcare employers can make to support their nursing staff best.

Navigating Mental Health for Nurses

Being a nurse isn’t easy. It involves grueling work, and the job has its hurdles, especially regarding mental well-being. 


When asked what contributes to burnout, nurses say insufficient staffing, high patient loads, poor and difficult leadership, and too much time spent on administrative tasks are some factors. 


A joint survey from the American Nurses Foundation and McKinsey found that 56% of the nurses reported experiencing symptoms of burnout. More than half (64%) indicated they feel “a great deal of stress” because of their jobs.

Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

The pandemic didn’t just disrupt our daily lives; it turned the healthcare system upside down and only fueled the fire, making a nurse’s tough job even more challenging. 


When COVID-19 hit, nurses were thrust onto the frontlines, battling the unknown every day they showed up for work. Stress levels went up, with fear of exposure, shortages of protective gear, and having to witness devastation. 


A 2023 survey concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the mental health of healthcare workers. Nearly 40% of healthcare workers surveyed intend to leave the industry within five years—and about one-third of those under age 35 intend to do so within two years. 


Many nurses were already stressed and burned out. The pandemic only exacerbated these issues. Not to mention triggering post-traumatic stress symptoms and other mental health challenges post-COVID. 

Identifying Mental Health Challenges in Nurses

When it comes to mental health, early detection can make all the difference in ensuring nurses get the help they need to thrive both in their personal and professional lives. 


NAMI lists the following common signs:

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Prolonged or intense feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits, such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality, delusions, or hallucinations
  • Lack of insight into one’s feelings, behavior, or personality
  • Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes 
  • Thoughts about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle problems and stress
  • Intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance


Unfortunately, mental health stigma is still present, even among those who work in healthcare. Many nurses feel pressured to be brave and manage their struggles in silence out of fear of judgment or repercussions. 


However, seeking support is not a sign of weakness. Conversations about mental health need to be normalized to ensure all nurses feel supported and valued. 

Coping Strategies: How to Prioritize Self-Care

Two-thirds of nurses surveyed reported not currently receiving mental health support, highlighting the urgent need for self-care strategies within the profession. 


Here are some effective coping strategies for nurses:  

Self-care techniques 

Activities like mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises, regular physical activity, proper rest and nutrition, and engaging in hobbies or interests outside of work can improve mental health. 

Work-life balance

Figuring out how to sustain your work and personal life is essential for every person’s mental health, especially nurses. Setting boundaries and prioritizing social events and activities outside of work that make you happy and relaxed can refill your energy tank. 

Support from colleagues, friends, and family

Reaching out to others is a great way to care for yourself. Sharing your experiences with coworkers who understand or with other trusted people can give you emotional validation and make you feel heard. 

Utilizing resources provided by the healthcare institution

Take advantage of the mental health resources provided by your employer. These resources are designed to support you and can guide you in getting help if needed.

How Can Employers Help?

Healthcare institutions play a crucial role in supporting the mental health of their nursing staff. Nurses need adequate time to recharge outside of work hours and to have their work-related responsibilities minimized to reduce overall stress. 

Encourage time off

Everyone needs a break, especially nurses. Employers can help prevent burnout and support their staff’s mental health by allowing sufficient time off to rest, recharge, and reflect. 

Destigmatization within the workplace

In the high-pressure healthcare environment, being able to address your mental health concerns openly and without judgment is crucial.

Some ways employers can help:

  • Provide education and awareness
  • Modeling by leadership
  • Promoting open dialogue
  • Make support accessible 

Flexible work options

In the fast-paced world of nursing, employer flexibility can make a significant difference in promoting mental health. Support from leadership will ultimately lead to a more resilient and effective nursing workforce. This flexibility allows them to attend to personal commitments, engage in self-care activities, and pursue hobbies or interests outside of work, contributing to improved mental well-being.


Some key considerations: 


Shift length

Nurses work long shifts with little or no reprieve from high-stress work. These longer shifts can lead to fatigue and burnout, making them unable to show up at their total capacity. 


Exploring options for shift length and having a schedule that better suits their needs could help nurses feel less stressed and burned out.  


Start time

In addition to longer shifts, shift start and end times can impact nurses’ sleep patterns and overall well-being. More flexibility in start times may allow nurses to better align their schedules with their personal lives and natural rhythms. 



Nurses are among the most critical positions in a healthcare setting because they have to manage many responsibilities. Flexible work options enable nurses to manage their work and personal commitments better and accommodate their schedules. 


Virtual activities

Making an option for nurses to do virtual work could provide much-needed breaks and opportunities for relaxation. This could involve telehealth services, virtual training and education, remote administrative tasks, and telecommuting opportunities. 

Provide comprehensive support programs

Mental health resources must be available and accessible to nursing staff. These may include employee assistance programs, therapy and group counseling, stress management, and resilience-building resources. 

Reduce administrative tasks

45% of nurses surveyed said that the excessive time working on electronic health records during breaks or after shifts adds frustration to their day. To mitigate these stressors, healthcare institutions could delegate documentation tasks, reduce the requirements, or use AI to help.

Resources for Nurse Mental Health

The American Nurses Foundation‘s Well-Being Initiative provides resources like: 


  • A tool kit with tips for practicing gratitude, including podcast episodes and articles
  • Guides for addressing burnout in your life, getting better sleep, finding appropriate mental health support, and dealing with grief
  • Information on suicide prevention and resilience
  • Family and financial support, and more  


The free Vitalize Care wellness app was created for nurses by nurses. It offers tools for journaling, peer support groups, small group coaching, and mindfulness content. To download it, search for it in your app store and select “American Nurses Foundation.” 


As part of the Well-Being Initiative, the American Nurses Foundation Stress and Burnout Prevention Program supports nurses by addressing burnout, managing stress, and increasing confidence. Nurses can use the self-assessment tool to measure their stress levels and find tools to help. 


There are also options for free and discounted therapy for nurses and hotlines to call if struggling with a mental health crisis. If you are in crisis and need immediate assistance, call or text 988 or chat at


The free nurse wellness initiative, Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation, aims to “connect and engage nurses, employers, and organizations around improving health in six areas: mental health, physical activity, nutrition, rest, quality of life, and safety.”


Nurses are the backbone of healthcare, and their mental health directly impacts patient care outcomes. By investing in resources and support systems tailored to nurses’ unique needs, we can empower them to navigate work-related stresses while maintaining their own well-being.


Ultimately, we need nurses. Prioritizing their mental health will enhance their work-life balance and the overall healthcare quality for everyone. 

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