Research projects

Healing the Healers: A peer based mentoring intervention

Principal Researchers

Professor Dimity Ponda,

Dr Terry Joycea,

Ms Susan Goodea,

Dr Parker Magina,

Professor Isabel Higginsa,

 Dr Teresa Stonea,

Ms Kerry O’Neillb,

Associate Professor Stephen Elsomc 

Institution

a University of Newcastle

b NSW Nurses Association 

c The University of Melbourne

Funding

$47,444

Award Type

beyondblue Grant

Project completion year

2009

Project brief

Nurses who experience mental illness may be marginalised and stigmatised by other nurses.  This project investigated whether a nurse-specific mental health workshop could address workplace problems experienced by nurses with mental illness. 

Specifically, the project aimed to determine whether such a workshop could influence nurses’ attitudes and responses towards colleagues with major mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol misuse, and bipolar disorder.  It also explored nurses’ perceptions of these illnesses in themselves and their colleagues, and aimed to complete a quantitative component as a pilot study.

One rural and two urban workshops were staged, each of three to four hours.  The workshops included a total of 18 nurses who did not have psychiatric diagnoses and were employed in the regional NSW health service.

Data was collected through pre- and post-workshop self-administered questionnaires and semi-structured interviews. 

Key findings

The post-workshop interviews indicated a need for more nursing-specific discussion based on the participants’ professional experience. 

While there were minimal gains in knowledge, the workshops presented opportunities for the participants to reinforce, extend and consolidate their knowledge about depression and anxiety.  The workshops also led to increased confidence among some nurses to recognise, approach and assist colleagues to seek help. 

The project found that assisting a nurse to seek help is not always easy.  Reasons include a nurse’s lack of confidence to approach a colleague, workplace barriers and a nurse’s unwillingness to admit that he or she has a problem.

Findings also suggested that receiving and providing support on a daily basis may be challenging for the nurse experiencing depression/anxiety and for co-workers, respectively.  Co-workers may experience resentment and feel burdened by working with a colleague who they perceive to be underperforming.  Understanding and addressing the impact of working conditions is required.

The study indicated that staff availability must be considered when developing and introducing education sessions such as this workshop.  Institutional barriers such as staff shortages and time constraints may limit nurses’ capacity to attend non-compulsory sessions.

Implications for policy, practice and further research

While the sample was small, the findings from the quantitative data support those from the qualitative study.  That is, implementing a nursing-specific mental health education session or adapting a pre-existing intervention is potentially effective in improving workplace support for nurses with depression, anxiety and related disorders.

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