The Long Haul: Yes, I Will Take That Mental Health Day

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by Dawn Miller Dawn Miller (New)

Specializes in CRRN, APU, GI, Freelance Nurse Writer. Has 8 years experience.

With the Pandemic still within our midst we are in for the "long haul" and our mental health needs a day of rest. Despite staff shortages and feeling guilty we need to care for ourselves, too.

When was the last time you took a day off for YOU?

The Long Haul: Yes, I Will Take That Mental Health Day

Like many registered nurses I have been working with the elevated level of stress since Covid-19 had started in March of 2020. The hospital that I work for was on point with attempting to provide safe PPE and regular updates through emails from the infectious disease department from the beginning. They were learning each day what was best or better and like the CDC it was often changing. Rationing supplies, mask cleaning, and education were at the highest alert. We worked our regular units and when a Covid dedicated unit was short-staffed we were expected to take turns and work “that unit.” There was a list to keep it fair and unless you had a significant respiratory history it was like drawing straws as to when your turn would be up. It was a mixed bag of emotions. As nurses, we want to help our patients, and often we put all into it. This was different though because there was an emotional aspect of fear involved too. Fear of catching Covid, fear of taking it home to our families or giving it to another patient. Fear of giving it to our co-workers or vice versa. This is still present, but I think the initial round of Covid’s destruction had the greatest impact on many of us, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

My Covid-19 testing day was January 1, 2021. Almost nine months after the changes had all started. Can you imagine, on New Year’s Day, there I was at the urgent care getting tested? Two days later I found out I was positive for Covid, having only had the first vaccination administered 10 days prior. That same day my spouse, father-in-law, and mother-n-law were tested and resulted positive too. I was able to escape most of the side effects because of having had at least one dose of the vaccine. My family members were not as lucky. My husband waited too long to go the hospital and ended up having Covid filled lungs, and with his underlying health conditions, we knew it was not going to be good. My father n law was admitted about the same time, and we felt released too soon. Two days after being sent home from the very hospital I work at, he passed away, quickly and unexpectedly. My mother-in-law like myself fared well without complications. My husband would go on to be admitted for thirty days and then have two subsequent admissions even scarier than the first one. He is classified as a “long hauler”, but many of us feel like we have been in it for the “long haul” of Covid’s effects on our lives, whether in healthcare or any other circumstances.  His life will never be the same, as well as the rest of our family’s. This is the backstory to Covid’s intrusion on my life and the reality of a life lost and lives that will never be the same is an understatement. I tell this because it is a common denominator of so many other persons working in healthcare.

As healthcare workers, there is a level of stress involved in our daily work environment in many different areas. We are trained to be in tune with stress and use healthy options to level the “playing” field. These can regularly include exercise, meditation, and music to name a few. Do we always use these tools? Not necessarily, but with the pandemic raging it was hard to find the time. One of the difficult aspects of the pandemic on nurse staffing was compensating for the nurses that did get sick, the burnout that could occur at any time, and caring for sick family members. As many of us have adjusted and the pandemic has changed course we do and should try to catch our breath.

I live in New Jersey and like many states, there are different pros and cons. One of the greatest benefits of the work environment is called the Earned Sick Leave. This law provides employees of every level, full-time, part-time, and per diem, the advantage of 40 hours of unquestioned time off, taken as needed. This time can be used for family needs, doctor’s appointments, however, a person sees fit. For me, this was a blessing, and I encourage nurses to utilize this time for a “mental wellness day” no matter their work-related concerns. We often are afraid to take a day off because we know the shortage situation. I have even checked the schedule to see how short-staffed we may be before I decide whether to call off or not, and that is wrong. We need to listen to our hearts, mind, and body and take that mental wellness day! In the end, everyone will benefit but most importantly it will be us, the caregivers to many.

In recognizing how we can continue to carry ourselves forward it is important for all levels of healthcare workers to be empowered by the efforts of others around them. What I mean by this is simple, but often overlooked. We can become enveloped in our own crisis or ongoing grind that we forget to reach out to those that are close, whether human resources (yes) co-workers, friends, or family. They may have an option we have not considered. We have ourselves in our “bubble”, but it is so important to look outside that bubble for a “mental health wellness day”, prepared dinner at your doorstep, or babysitter time as we move forward with the “long haul”. Vaccinations have benefited us to a degree, and I still wear a mask in public, but our chains have loosened enough that we can re-evaluate and feed ourselves with the love and kindness we are so deserving of.

Dawn Miller

Dawn Miller has 7 years experience and specializes in CRRN, APU, GI, Freelance Nurse Writer.

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9 Comment(s)

GrumpyRN, NP

Specializes in Emergency Department. Has 40 years experience. 1,211 Posts

Most of you will have seen posts by myself where I denigrate the American habit of saying "Thank you for your service" to people who joined the military, however even though I am British I would say to the OP (and others like her) - Thank You for YOUR service.

Take care of yourself.

2BS Nurse, BSN

Has 9 years experience. 669 Posts

SO well written! Why isn't the general public hearing these stories???

Dawn Miller

Dawn Miller

Specializes in CRRN, APU, GI, Freelance Nurse Writer. Has 8 years experience. 1 Article; 2 Posts

Thank you, you are right. I'm glad I had allnurses to share it through. 

2BS Nurse, BSN

Has 9 years experience. 669 Posts

There needs to be a prime time 20/20, Dateline, whatever, where nurses like you are interviewed. A recap of what has occurred the past 2 years and how our profession will move forward. Even working in a clinic, I hear staff downplaying the pandemic (including nurses!). The only reason I know the truth is because I seek out interviews with inpatient staff and ask questions about their experiences.

LikeTheDeadSea, BSN, RN

Specializes in School Nursing. Has 6 years experience. 647 Posts

Thank you for sharing.  Very well written and powerful.

JBMmom, MSN, NP

Specializes in New NP Hospitalist, Critical care, Med-surg, LTC. Has 10 years experience. 4 Articles; 2,174 Posts

I am sorry for all that you have been through. I do support those nurses that feel that they need a mental health day, but it's not something that I can do for me. I understand that sick time is available for such reasons, but it's just not something that I can justify with myself. On the days that I have been feeling not quite my best and gone in to work, I have almost always found that the satisfaction of going in and doing my job, and leaving a patient just a little bit better than I found them, is what makes me feel better. Then again, I've admittedly never been great at the work life balance thing and maybe I would have benefitted from taking some of those days off. In my 20+ years of working I've only ever missed two days of work, going to work is just what I do.

SmilingBluEyes

Specializes in Specializes in L/D, newborn, GYN, LTC, Dialysis. Has 25 years experience. 20,954 Posts

On 10/24/2021 at 5:04 PM, 2BS Nurse said:

SO well written! Why isn't the general public hearing these stories???

They probably would not care.

nursej22, MSN, RN

Specializes in Public Health, TB. Has 37 years experience. 2,474 Posts

14 minutes ago, SmilingBluEyes said:

They probably would not care.

Or they don't believe them. 

2BS Nurse, BSN

Has 9 years experience. 669 Posts

All of the above. "Unless it happens to me it's of no concern to me". ☹️