Thoughts from Trusted Travel Nurses

Black Nurses’ Mental Health Matters

Portia Wofford, LPN
February 25, 2022
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Black nurses face a dual pandemic—caring for patients during this time of COVID-19 — while working short-staffed and often in unsafe conditions—and then clocking out and facing racial violence and discrimination. Throw in taunting from patients who use racial slurs or refuse to have us care for them and dealing with coworkers who gaslight us and weaponize their privilege; being a Black nurse can feel lonely. You often feel ostracized, belittled, and demeaned.

Being a Black nurse also means navigating the weight of being a minority nurse (sometimes the only one) on your unit or at your facility. It means:

  • Ensuring Black patients receive fair and compassionate treatment.
  • Doing your part to promote health equity. 
  • Dealing with racism from patients, colleagues, and coworkers.

All of this makes being a Black nurse a stressor that can worsen the already complicated occupational stressors that nurses experience. 

How racism in nursing affects Black nurses' mental health

A study by Nursing Outlook showed that Black nurses:

  • Perceived they have low psychological resilience in stressful situations.
  • Are affected by both lived and vicarious racism. 
  • Expect and worry that racism will happen to them or other Black people.

COVID-19 has affected Black communities and Black nurse health at a disproportionate rate. Navigating the stressors of their jobs and racism-related stress can contribute to burnout and negatively impact a Black nurse's mental health. According to psychotherapist Megan Watson, "Microaggressions and macroaggressions in the workplace, that stem from patients, colleges, supervisors, management, and the institution itself might be rooted in racist ideology and can put a heavy burden on the work that you do and ultimately impacts your burnout."

Black nurses face obstacles daily and throughout our careers. Examples include:

  • Not being seen as equals to our nonBlack colleagues.
  • Facing gatekeeping that actively prohibits us from moving to new specialties.
  • Being passed over when applying for management or leadership positions. 

And, according to a survey by the National Commission to Address Racism In Nursing,

  • Over 7 in 10 Black nurses say there's 'a lot' of racism in nursing.
  • 70% of Black nurses experienced an act of racism from leaders.
  • 68% of Black nurses experienced racism from patients.
  • 66% of Black nurses experienced racism from their peers.
  • 57% of nurses said they have challenged racism in the workplace.
  • More than half of nurses said their efforts of challenging racism resulted in no change.

These examples of racism and discrimination are not unique. The survey revealed the systemic nature of anti-Black racism, with 92% of Black nurses experiencing racism in the workplace and over ¾ saying racism has impacted their professional well-being.

Seek mental health support

According to the American Psychological Association, Black people often receive poorer quality of mental healthcare and lack access to culturally competent care. Seeking mental health support is challenging for Black people due to the history of Black people and healthcare in the United States. Black people do not trust health or mental health systems. Being misdiagnosed or over-diagnosed, not adequately supported or treated, and foundational institutional and systemic racism in medicine towards Black people doesn't make it easy. Therefore, Black nurses need to seek a safe space when opening up to a mental health professional.  

Seek a Black mental health provider

Let's be honest. Black people feel safer and more relaxed when in the presence of other Black people. First, there's trust. Many Black people find it hard to trust nonBlack providers. Hiring a Black therapist who understands the culture, vernacular, mannerisms, and just the overall struggle of being Black in America can help build trust and a connection that may otherwise be lost. Black therapists can empathize through shared or similar experiences with their Black patients. Many nonBlack mental health professionals may not understand the pressures of Black professionals or race-related trauma. Black therapists or counselors have a heightened sensitivity to this because they, too, are affected.

Call in allyship

Frankly, Black nurses are tired and have grown weary of calling out racism and discrimination in nursing by themselves. It's time for allies to step up and out. Black nurses can't dismantle racism in nursing alone. According to Dr. Alysha Hart, Ph.D., APRN, NP-C, "We need allies to take a stance against anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and all forms of oppression in health care." 

In the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, Hart writes, "Allyship involves a commitment to work in solidarity with oppressed groups to end racial and social injustice. In historically oppressed communities, allies should act as co-conspirators, lending support that de-centers whiteness and focuses on the liberation of others."

Additional Resources 

Trusted has gathered several resources to help you in your practice:

Taking care of your mental health is a journey, and Trusted has lots of great resources to help you along the way. We regularly host virtual events with tips on how to improve mental wellbeing. Additionally, when you work with Trusted, you get access to exclusive benefits such as two free therapy sessions, free meditation subscription, and physical fitness sessions among much more. Sign up with Trusted today to start your journey. .

Portia Wofford, LPN

Portia Wofford is an award-winning nurse, writer, and digital marketer. After dedicating her nursing career to creating content and solutions for employers that affected patient outcomes, these days, Portia empowers health businesses and nursing brands to grow their communities through engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest (@thewritenurse). As part of her mission to help nurses earn extra income, beyond the bedside, Portia teaches nurses how to get paid and published by showing them how to land their first paid freelance writing gig.

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