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The number of nursing students with anxiety related issues has risen significantly over the past few years.
Recent evidence form the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that mental ill health affects nearly half the population worldwide. This prevalence of being mentally unwell is highly associated with anxiety, stress and a lack of support – issues that have all been identified with nursing students.
Students describe a sense of social isolation associated with the stigma of being mentally unwell and are often unwilling to seek help because of this perceived stigma.
Within the current coronavirus crisis, nursing students are facing even bigger challenges, new ways of working, and extreme situations which, as a nursing student, one would never have imagined being placed in.
Several of my own students find solstice in writing about their journey and personal battles with their own mental health issues. They find it more helpful to write their thoughts down on paper than to physically talk about issues.
One of my students has granted permission for this to be shared in an attempt to, perhaps, foster understanding and compassion among others. It also demonstrates the incredible value and importance of self-care too.
Fiona Cust is senior lecturer in children’s nursing, Staffordshire University
From the moment we begin our nursing journey there is an inescapable question we are all asked as students: “Why do you want to be a nurse?”
I have grown used to expressing my answer in many simple ways – I am passionate about caring for others, I find helping people very rewarding,
The truth is, there is a simple, raw humanity in nursing that draws me toward it – selfless displays of empathy, respect, compassion, small kindnesses that won’t heal wounds, but soothe almost intolerable pain.
I’ve seen it in reassuring smiles and softly spoken words, hands held and steps steadied, music and teddies, laughter and games. It is in gentle explanations and sensitive pauses, the resolute presence of a nurse through the silence of bad news, and the fragile plaster imprints of the hands of lost children. It is a privilege to be able to offer these things to others.
Like the patients and families I have cared for, I have endured my own suffering. As a consequence, throughout my life I have wrestled with guilt, doubt and shame, in a constant struggle that has reinforced in me a fierce passion and determination to help others.
When I started university, I intentionally hid that I am autistic and have difficulties with my mental health, as I have all of my life, for fear of rejection, intolerance or discrimination. If I was not infallible, how could I be good enough? If I could not put my own suffering to one side for the sake of others, how could I be worthy of being a nurse?
I’ve had breaks to my education and visited psychiatrists, counsellors and psychotherapists, I’ve explored my memories and hypothesised about my future, dissected and reconstructed my thoughts and feelings and beliefs.
Staying focused has been a constant struggle, and the pressure of living up to my own expectations has, at times, resulted in intolerable pressure.
I have come to realise, slowly, that in order to reach my potential I need to be honest with myself and those around me. Far from what I feared, my honesty has been met with acceptance and compassion.
Incredible offerings of care and support make me feel more human and valued than I ever have; lecturers stopping in the hallway to check how my day went; an e-mail in my inbox 7am on Saturday morning with words of encouragement and positive messages; a drink, a chat, a quiet reminder that I am not alone.
Sharing my own story was difficult, but as I did so I found many others – students, nurses, support workers, doctors – all had their own stories and their own struggles. Many wanted to help others for precisely that reason, just as I did. They are not perfect, indestructible or infallible, but human. It is the humanity we share that drives us and allows us to offer such compassion and empathy to others.
Though I have dedicated my life to caring for others, I have learned the importance of self-compassion. I allow myself to feel sad, upset or overwhelmed and acknowledge those emotions without guilt. I accept my weaknesses and my differences without judging myself. I focus on what I can achieved, not my limitations. And I’ve learned when that’s enough, and when I need to ask for help.
“We will all struggle to find balance as we contend with new challenges and restrictions in our lives”
Like many, I still find aspects of life challenging, and I still struggle with my mental health. Kindness won’t change who I am or free me of my difficulties, but it does help keep me well. And the bad days are easier knowing I don’t have to go through them alone.
Our world is changing, and I have needed to develop new ways of coping amid the current crisis. We will all struggle to find balance as we contend with new challenges and restrictions in our lives.
Many students will be at home, their lives on pause, facing uncertainty about their future and education. Some will feel hopeless, having lost the support system they have come to rely on – they should not be overlooked.
Many of us will be returning to placement soon with unexpected challenges, new standards, increased pressure and emotional demands. Access to our usual support, wellbeing services and primary care is restricted.
It has never been more important that we are compassionate towards ourselves, make time for self-care, and remember the massive difference kindness can have on how we experience the world.