A pathway to a healthier you

Stress adds up and takes its toll

“The stress we’re under, it kind of rolls over, it’s day to day,” says registered nurse Hannah who works in a busy emergency department in the Northern Territory.

Hannah, who has also done remote area nursing in the Top End, moved to the NT from Victoria where she worked in the ED in a private hospital.

Exposure to trauma, every day

“When I first moved up here, the nature of the presenting complaints was a big contrast from what I'd seen. These included horrific domestic violence and child abuse, presentations relating to drug and alcohol including assaults, bad drink driving accidents, and conflict with deadly weapons - I've seen someone with an arrow through their leg.” 

While the exposure comes initially as a massive shock, you become accustomed to it and then you just keep going every day, says Hannah.

No time to debrief

“You think it would be nice to debrief with somebody on those kinds of day-to-day experiences. But you have your late-early and then you just go into the next shift and then you see something even more horrific, so it ends up just piling up. In the end for me, I might have to take a sick day.”

Violence at work – feeling unsafe

Workplace violence is also common, especially working in the ED and Hannah reports having been assaulted, including having been spat in the eye. “I often feel in a vulnerable and unsafe position myself because of the overcrowding and all the people that have to come into the emergency room.” 

Stretched, stressed, short-staffed

Isolation, a transient workforce with high turnover and staff shortages are stresses that impact health and wellbeing, says Hannah. 

The working conditions are stressful - we're understaffed, we don't have ratios and we're working overtime and doing ‘doubles’ - and there’s not great support in terms of management and education

Moral distress – feeling you are not quite delivering

Making mistakes and errors and feeling like you're not being able to adequately care for the patients is one of her biggest stresses, says Hannah.

You learn how to do your nursing job and the standard that you should provide and then you have to fall back a little bit and only do what you can do. And that makes it really hard if you feel like you haven't looked after someone because you haven't been able to get to them and there's nothing else that you can do. You've asked for the help and it's not there. “It's like it doesn't matter about how much you've actually done in your shift. You always go home thinking about the things that you haven't done because it's out of your control. It’s not the difference that you've made, you're lying in bed at night, thinking: ‘Oh, I wish I did that’. It definitely can weigh on you.

Ask for help from someone who understands

“It’s important that if we’re struggling with our mental health and wellbeing due to what’s happening at work that we do access and utilise what’s available for us,” says Hannah.

She welcomes Nurse Midwife Health Program Australia which offers free and confidential case-management and counselling services delivered by nurses and midwives.

“You kind of do get lost in it all sometimes. We need a kind of service that can kind of cut through - to be there for nurses and midwives.”

Hannah has reached out on different occasions for support – she has accessed the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria (NMHPV) and employee-assistance programs (ESA) in the Northern Territory. 

I think just knowing that that person might have had similar experiences and can relate is so helpful to be able to connect with that person that you're speaking with

Hannah rates her experience with the NMHPV, a service for Victorian nurses and the model of care on which Nurse Midwife Health Program Australia is based, as highly beneficial for its unlimited sessions, ease of use and confidentiality.

“It was very easy to call up and make my appointment just saying that I was a nurse. If I wasn't able to make the appointment, my counsellor followed up with me personally to make sure I was OK and to rebook. So I felt like I was not just a number in the system. Obviously if I'm accessing this service there’s something that I really need to discuss. It made me feel very valued. 

“Whereas I think like when I've had like people through ESA or EAP, it's kind of just been like them listening and acknowledging, but not action going forward and I think that hasn't made me want to go back to see them as much. They're still like a great service. But I think that was the main difference that would definitely send me back to a service delivered by nurses. I feel I was being heard and we came up with a plan to put in place.

Confidentiality is also key attribute of Nurse Midwife Health Program Australia, says Hannah. “That it's not affiliated with the hospital that you're working with, it feels safer for some reason. I know that the hospital can kind of see if you've used your three appointments with EAP whereas this, it's kind of separate.”