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Behind the Bandages

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on the mental health of healthcare professionals, particularly those working in high-pressure environments like hospitals and clinics. However, a segment of this workforce that is often overlooked is the school nurses, who grapple with distinct mental health challenges that are exacerbated by their pivotal role in bridging health care and education in our schools. It is imperative to prioritize the mental well-being of these professionals, not just for their own sake but also for the positive impact it can have on the students and school communities they serve.

In a 2022 collaborative survey by the CDC and NASN, upwards of 45% of school nurses reported experiencing at least one adverse mental health condition in the two weeks prior to completing the survey. The findings indicated a significant association between poor mental health symptoms among school nurses and work-related stressors, which is not a surprise considering school nurses are tasked with navigating a multifaceted landscape, balancing clinical responsibilities with providing emotional and psychological support to their students. Furthermore, while a team of trained healthcare professionals typically surrounds nurses working in other medical settings, school nurses often find themselves handling medical emergencies independently, often with limited resources.

To combat these mental health challenges, several interventions and resources are available for school nurses. One crucial strategy is the development of professional support networks. Organizations like NASN and individual state school nurse associations can be platforms where school nurses have the opportunity to connect, share experiences, and offer mutual backing and assistance. Other resources - including MacGill's weekly school nurse newsletter, The Pulse, can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide valuable insights for school nurses seeking guidance and support.

Mindfulness and stress management programs specifically tailored for healthcare professionals have also been shown to be effective. In response to the "growing burden of stress and moral distress" reported amongst nurses in the last several years, the American Nurses Foundation launched the Well-being Initiative to provide nurses access to digital mental health and wellness-related sources, tools, and additional means of support for their emotional well-being. Similarly, Healthy Nurse Health Nation, a program from the American Nurses Association, advocates for "improving health in six areas: mental health, physical activity, nutrition, rest, quality of life, and safety." More self-care tips can be found in our previous blog post, Self-Care for School Nurses.

Lastly, school leaders can play a crucial role in promoting the mental well-being of school nurses by involving them in decision-making processes regarding school health and providing tools and training for school principals and nurse managers to identify workplace stressors that commonly lead to burnout and leave school nurses at risk for emotional distress, depression, or other mental health challenges. These include inadequate staffing, incommensurate wages, disproportionate responsibilities, and lack of support. In the end, school nurses' critical role in maintaining students' health and safety is an aspect that can significantly impact educational outcomes, and, therefore, it is crucial to invest more effort and dedication to overcome the various factors contributing to burnout symptoms and protect their mental health.

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