This Nurse Wants Change, Not a Pizza Party, for Nurses Month

Bree Becker, FNP-C, MSN, BSN, BA


May 24, 2022

"Happy Nurses Month!" That's the inspirational opening line of so many of the emails that came through my inbox this month. Reminders to "grab my discount!" and "attend the pizza party!" are plastered all over my computer.

But a blog from one of my favorite nursing newsletters, Florence Health: The Daily Huddle, changed the mood. The opening letter from the CEO addressed the suicide of a nurse at Kaiser's Santa Clara Medical Center in California. He brought a gun to work and took his life in the middle of his shift.

My response to this article surprised me: It wasn't sadness, it was anger. Anger that nurses are called heroes which implies that we are fictitious characters with unstoppable powers. None of us are superheroes. We are humans with lives and emotions stretched beyond capacity, and some of us break. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. That might be a coincidence, but let's take advantage of this to raise awareness for both causes simultaneously.

Reality Check

I didn't personally know the nurse from California who took his own life, but I feel like I did. While he had his story, I assume that he became a nurse because he wanted to help people. Most of us see nursing as a calling and a cause. How does something rooted in caring go so wrong? Perhaps we aren't caring enough for ourselves? We neglect our own mental well-being in our quest to help our patients.

No one starts nursing school thinking, I will give of myself until I have nothing left to give, and then one day, when I've reached my limit, I will go to work and kill myself. "Happy Nurses Month?" After reading about his death, those words seem trite. You can keep your discounts and pizza parties.

Calling All Nurses

What if instead of a month of pizza parties, we meaningfully address mental health? Or in nurse-speak, what if we treated the actual problem rather than putting a Band-Aid on a festering wound caused by a systemic infection?

The American Nurses Association chose the theme for Nurses Month to be "Nurses Make a Difference," and the National Alliance on Mental Health chose "TOGETHER for Mental Health." What if we combine those ideas: Because nurses make a difference, let's stand together for our mental health. If we don't, who else will?

Destigmatize and Know the Warning Signs

Let's break the stigma associated with mental health, especially in healthcare. Millions of Americans live with mental health issues. To expect that nurses and other healthcare workers are immune is shortsighted. In fact, research from the Mayo Clinic found that nurses think about suicide the most compared with other professions. And even more, nurses who think about suicide are less likely to seek mental health than their peers. 

The most common mental health illnesses in the United States are depression and anxiety, so it's essential to know when you should get professional help. Anytime your mental stress starts to interfere with your daily activity, it may be time to reach out.

So . . . Happy Nurses Month? Yes! Accept all the gratitude and celebration this month. But at the same time, think about how you can care for yourself as you would care for your patients, family, and friends. Celebrate this Nurses Month by choosing you.

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About Bree Becker
Bree Becker, FNP-C, MSN, BSN, BA, works in obstetric cardiology focusing on patients recovering from preeclampsia. She is also the director of clinical for Matchwell, healthcare's first un-agency. She also sits on the Board of Directors for the Georgia Nurses Association. When she's not caring for new moms and helping nurses find work-life harmony, you will find her at the soccer fields with her 8-year-old son, three dogs, and husband of 16 years.

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