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COVID-19s Impact on Mental Health: Nursing School Edition

By Amera Saber

I have always dreamed of attending nursing school to become an RN at a hospital. I never considered nursing school’ s impact on my social life nor my mental, emotional, and physical well-being. I started my first semester of nursing school during a deadly and confusing virus. I didn’t know what was more terrifying; starting a rigorous program or starting it in a deadly pandemic. It was hard for me to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I saw my mental health deplete as I tried to balance the outside world, my studies, transitioning from in-person to online, and my well-being. I now understand that we all face challenges that will impact our mental health. I am currently in my last year of school and am proud of the courage and strength that took me to get through one of my most mentally exhausting years. 

Mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety affect 40 million people in the United States every year and health students are highly vulnerable (1,2). Globally, depression is the number one cause of disability with 75% of people being untreated and 1 million take their lives each year. Followed by anxiety being the most common mental disorder globally (1). Both anxiety and depression can stem from each other and can also be stand-alone diseases (1). Young adults starting from 18 years old suffer from depression and anxiety which can derive from personal life events, genetics, brain chemistry, and personality (1). Up to 55% of health students present with depression, burnout, and increased alcohol intake, while 44% of health students who are mainly female develop a mental disorder like anxiety and depression (2,3). Any trauma-inducing situation triggers physiological and psychological responses that create damaging effects on mental health (2). 

Nursing students exposed to intense stress with emotional support were more likely to express positive feelings of happiness than those without support (2). Not to mention, those who identified with religion did not suffer any mental disorders either (2). Stressful events like the covid-19 pandemic and rigorous schoolwork can critically limit learning skills resulting in poor academic success (2). Irritability, nervousness, sadness, and depression are risk factors that stress can cause, furthermore triggering more stress resulting in anxiety and depression (2). Nursing school alone already increases student’s stress, so with the addition of covid-19, one can only imagine the detrimental effects on the student’s mental health (2). The covid-19 pandemic put everyone around the world under immense stress raising concerns about anxiety and depression (4). Along with the increase in mental illnesses during covid-19, substance and alcohol abuse spiked, therefore exacerbating anxiety and depression (4). When anxiety and depression are left untreated, which is very common people resort to self-harm and self-medication by the means of alcohol and drugs (4). When experiencing high levels of stress that put you at risk of anxiety and depression, it may be difficult to communicate your struggles with those around you, thus finding the right solution could be impossible (2). 

Anxiety and depression are treatable through therapy, complementary and alternative medicine, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (1). Organizations like the NIMH and ADAA are perfect resources to help raise awareness and guide those affected to treatment and care. The NIMH or the National Institute of Mental Health has been working on bringing awareness through conversations about treatments and understanding of mental disorders like depression and anxiety (3). They are a federal agency that extensively researches mental disorders making them the largest biomedical research agency in the world (3). They provide resources to increase perception and care through clinical research which allows for prevention, recovery, and cure (3). Continuously the ADAA or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers a safe place to share stories while also educating the public on anxiety and depression disorders (1). Founded 40 years ago, ADAA is a global nonprofit organization where their mission is to prevent, treat, and cure anxiety and depression disorders through evidence-based treatment by offering support groups, tips on how to manage anxiety, blog posts and, webinars (1). Another organization called NAMI or the National Alliance on Mental Illness advocates for a community that cares about those suffering mental health disorders in America (5). They honor 5 concepts: hope, inclusion, empowerment, compassion, and fairness (5). NAMI also offers a toll-free hotline providing free information and support at 800-950-6264 (5). Additionally, NAMI fights the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and encourages understanding through public awareness events like Mental Illness Awareness Week (5). 

Educate and support each other! Start to have discussions with friends and family. Mental health disorders are much more common than we think. We must erase the stigma surrounding mental health by advocating and listening to people’s stories. The more advocacy the more understanding we become as a society which leads to people seeking treatment, so they no longer must suffer in silence. This also allows for a strong support system for those suffering from anxiety and depression silently (2). As nursing students, dedicating some time for a quick call or grabbing coffee with friends and family can help ease any stressors (4). If you are a nurse or healthcare professional, I urge you to visit Thriveglobal.com for mental health support. Thrive Global works to address the needs of frontline workers so they can appropriately assist others. I also urge you to visit NAMI, ADAA, and NIMH websites to learn more about mental health disorders so we can start having open discussions together.

References:

  1. Understanding Anxiety and Depression: Facts and Statistics. ADAA

https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics

  1. Stress in Nursing University Students and Mental Health. IntechOpen

https://www.intechopen.com/books/health-and-academic-achievement/stress-in-nursing-university-students-and-mental-health

  1. Mental Illnesses: Statistics. National Institute of Mental Health

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/

  1. Nursing Students’ Guide to Maintaining Good Mental Health. Premier Nursing Academy

https://www.premiernursingacademy.org/blog/nursing-student-mental-health

  1. NAIMI Helpline: National Alliance on Mental Health

https://www.nami.org/help

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