The importance of mental health has became more apparent these past few years with more and more countries working on implementing new health policies that cover mental health. In Nigeria, however, the situation is not so bright with a lot of stigma still surrounding mental illnesses, making people hesitate before seeking help.
Mental health policy in Nigeria is a big issue for the country. Despite a seemingly adequate bill on Mental Health Act, the country still operates using an outdated mental health policy. If it seems so bad for members of the public who have mental health issues, immagine how it must feel for nurses who come down with this, specifically "depression".
A national survey on stigma and mental illness among nursing professionals in Nigeria conducted in the six geopolitical zones of the country by Obembe A, Yunusa M, Adeniyi F and Uwakwe R in a 2013 National survey tittled: "Stigma, Mental illness and Nurses in Nigeria: A preliminary report." reported that 40% of their studied population viewed mentally ill individuals as violent, 26.5% would distance themselves from the mentally ill and a third associated mental illness with lack of self discipline and will power but generally they held less negative views about mental illness.
One question most people do not think to ask or wonder is: "Do Nurses Get Depressed?". A simple answer to this is: "Nurses are also human"
Based on what most think to expect and see, whether in a hospital or during an appointment, nurses are expected to greet patients with a comforting warmth, smile and kindness 24/7, 365 days a week. Members of the public nor our fellow healthcare providers do not seem to realise that nurses are at risk of developing depression at twice the rate of a patient who does not work in the medical field or a co-worker who is not always on call. Despite lots of medical training, most nurses do struggle with self-diagnosing a condition such as depression because they do not notice the symptoms.
Symptoms of Depression
Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and though vague may include:
Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.
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.
Depression is a serious disorder that can take a terrible toll on you and your family. Depression often gets worse if it isn't treated, resulting in emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every area of your life.
Examples of complications associated with depression include:
Excess weight or obesity, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes
Pain or physical illness
Alcohol or drug misuse
Anxiety, panic disorder or social phobia
Family conflicts, relationship difficulties, and work or school problems
Suicidal feelings, suicide attempts or suicide
Self-mutilation, such as cutting
Premature death from medical conditions
When it comes to short staffing, a lack of support and recognition, poor working conditions and low pay, nurses in Nigeria get this in spades almost like winning a jackpot. The webpage Minority Nurse argues that depression is one of the best-kept secrets in the nursing profession, stating that 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.
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 paste a fake smile on their faces and return to work, which only makes it worse, forgetting that the longer the depression stays buried, the more crippling it becomes and the harder it becomes to treat in the long run.
To be a nurse, you have to be naturally strong of heart and mind because strength is needed 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.
There's no sure way to prevent depression. However, these strategies may help:
Take steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and boost your self-esteem.
Reach out to family and friends, especially in times of crisis, to help you weather rough spells.
Get treatment at the earliest sign of a problem to help prevent depression from worsening.
Consider getting long-term maintenance treatment to help prevent a relapse of symptoms.
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.
Webmd, Scrubs Magazine, Stigma and Mental Illness in Nigeria By Aishatu Yushau Armiyau
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