Depression Among Nurses: It’s Real

nurse depression

Every day, nurses experience a great deal of stress. You’re thinking of problems at work, people relying on you for their care, and tons of responsibilities piling up at home. With so many things to do and think about, it’s tempting to just quit and leave — but you can’t. And that’s where things start to get worse.

In this year’s celebration of World Health Day, the World Health Organization focuses on depression and this article aims to highlight one condition that’s prevalent among nurses, yet rarely talked about.

Nurse Depression: Why It Happens

Nurses know a lot about depression but this doesn’t mean that they are immune to it. In fact, nurses are twice at risk for depression than the general population.

One good reason is the responsibility they carry.

Nurses are tasked to look after their patients. They need to make sure that the right medications and procedures are performed by the right people on the right patients. In addition to nurse-specific tasks, they can also be asked to fill in other people’s jobs, like covering for a CNA when a unit is understaffed.

Apart from the weight of their job, nurses deal with people every day. This means getting exposed to different emotions, too. We see patients grieve, experience despair and some even die. This is especially true for ED, NICU, oncology, or hospice nurses. When nurses lose their patients, they don’t just feel grief; they can feel guilty and blame themselves.

Add to those things are the piling chores we need to attend to once we get home. Being a parent with kids multiplies the stress and responsibilities.

With all these factors combined, depression becomes almost inevitable.

Signs Of Nurse Depression

living with depression

Nurses are familiar with how depression manifests. We’ve read and studied it at school and we’ve seen it happen to patients. We know that frequent thoughts of suicide, failure to feel joy, and lack of enthusiasm are clear signs of the condition.

Unfortunately, depression among nurses is subtle and a lot less recognizable than that. This makes diagnosis a lot harder.

Frequent mood swings in a nurse can signal depression. Another sign is dissatisfaction at work. Depressed nurses tend to arrive late for their shift.

In certain instances, they can even miss work without notifying their supervisors. When a nurse becomes uninterested in filling his role in the team, it can also be a sign of encroaching depression.

For some nurses, depression can manifest with excessive alcohol intake. While nurses like to drink with friends during their free time, depressed nurses try to escape their anxiety and frustration by drinking more often.

Some of them even turn to medications and drugs which subsequently make it harder for them.

Other signs of depression in nurses include:

  • Inability to focus
  • Poor time management
  • Slow response to crisis
  • Performs poorly with mental tasks
  • Impaired decision-making skills
  • Low productivity
  • Impaired interpersonal skills
  • Being more accident-prone

Effects of Depression Among Nurses

nurse grief

Nurses who are undergoing depression are at risk of harming their patients. Because of their inability to focus and think clearly, it’s easy for them to miss a sign, miscalculate medicines and compromise their patients’ overall safety.

Apart from these things, there’s also the issue of stigma.

Nurses diagnosed with depression may face discrimination and insults at work. They can lose people’s trust and when their team members no longer trust them, they become even more depressed. They might even lose their job and career as a nurse, or worse.

How To Deal With Nurse Depression


Similar to what we teach our patients, recognizing the signs of depression can help us solve the issue easier. Nurses need to know how to recognize the subtle symptoms of depression in themselves and their co-workers.

Apart from the symptoms, nurses must also be aware of their treatment options. They need to be educated about which treatment plans they can take that won’t affect their job.

Better work environment

Providing a suitable and supportive environment can help depressed nurses recover faster. They must be provided with reasonable accommodations, especially when they are in the phase where their depression is negatively affecting their work.

For prevention, nurses must not be given unreasonable workloads. Working longer than they are supposed to and taking more shifts than necessary should be discouraged to avoid burnout. If these things aren’t feasible, it’s essential for an institution to develop an acceptable working schedule with their nurses.

See Also: How to Prevent Nurse Burnout and Achieve Work-Life Balance

Focus on self-care


Nurses undergoing therapy should be encouraged to engage in better self-care habits. They need to be taught how to take things easy.

It can be as simple as encouraging them to try meditation, journaling or yoga. Ask them to walk instead of run when there’s really no need to hurry on the floor. Allow them to take breaks and make sure they take one, even if they don’t think they need it.

Seek help

Nurses who refuse to seek treatment are likely to feel even more depressed. In severe cases, it can lead to suicide

Before any of these things happen, nurses should be introduced to therapy and should be encouraged to finish it. A lot of depressed nurses tend to quit treatment half way because they think they’ve recovered or they just don’t need it anymore.

For some nurses, they stop because they don’t want to be seen weak, out of control and incapable of doing their job. They wouldn’t want to risk their credibility, both in the eyes of their co-workers and their patients.

See Also: 20 Ways Nurses Can Beat Depression


Depression can happen to anyone and being a nurse doesn’t mean you’re safe. You are just as risk- even twice as risk- as everyone else.

This year’s celebration of World Health Day, we get a unique opportunity to not only spread awareness but actually take specific actions against depression. No matter what career, age or nationality it affects, we should encourage people struggling with this condition reach out, seek help and get treated.

Depression is preventable and it can be cured. It just needs to have more attention and increased visibility.