Having mental health at work (prevention of psychosocial risks such as stress and burn-out) high on its agenda, the Belgium EU Presidency organised a high-level conference on mental health and work, in Brussels, bringing together experts and decision-makers in the field of mental health and work to address all the challenges that are related to the worsening of mental health in European workplaces, and to share innovative solutions and best practices to help anticipate and plan for the future.
From nurses’ perspective, this is a crucial development to take forward. Considering that with COVID-19, nurses have paid a high price with their mental health, it is crucial to make the EU and national governments understand how severely the nurses’ mental health has been tested due to increasingly complex situations and precarious working conditions in which nurses’ work, which were worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic, putting nurses’ health and well-being at risk. The aging of the nursing staff and the lack of young nurses is also putting a strain on the proper functioning of healthcare systems that, in this way, risk to collapse. The nursing profession is not attractive for the young generation and the lack of nurses only increases the workload for those who remain in this profession, increasing levels of stress and burnout.
Therefore, Mental health cannot be underestimated, and action needs to be taken now. It is crucial for the EU to take action to keep our EU nurses protected from chronic stress and poor mental health. It is time to reflect on this and start taking care of those who care.
COVID-19 crisis showed that it is time to change direction and reconsider our EU health systems. As mentioned in the EFN Report on ‘Lessons Learned from Ebola & COVID-19’, appropriate support services must be put in place for nurses to address the impact of the numerous stressors. Some possible actions could be taken through national and local programmes that support frontline nurses to preserve their mental health and avoid psychological trauma; by condemning and combatting the stigmatisation of nurses taking care of the most vulnerable citizens (e.g. official communications); by fostering the co-creation and co-design of political decision-making processes involving frontline nurses, concerning infectious disease preparedness, health protocols, training, selection of equipment; by working with nurses to develop policies that protect nursing staff from unnecessarily difficult or unsafe working conditions; and by allocating or re-allocating EU funds to support frontline nurses, to inject funds into the nursing frontline and nursing research, with the aim to be better prepared for future COVID-19 waves.
It is time to collaborate to build a resilient nursing workforce! It is key to demonstrate how important mental health is for the well-being of the population. Actions need to be taken to show that investing in mental well-being is a good way for being prepared for facing future health crisis.