NURSES ARE NOT UNBREAKABLE. Nobody knows this better than Cecilia Yeung—a BC nurse who started a support group to help nurses suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
The strong response she got from nurses in distress only confirmed her suspicions about how many of them are suffering in silence.
Cecilia suffers from PTSD. She knows from personal experience how hard it is to cope with it—particularly if you have to do it all on your own.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through, but unfortunately I know there are too many healthcare providers who are suffering silently,” she says.
Cecilia says she has spoken to over 300 nurses across the province via private message and phone calls.
While Cecilia’s group primary aim is to help nurses access treatment, it also helps nurses with self-care and early detection of symptoms to prompt them to seek timely treatment.
A violent attack
Cecilia’s own difficulties began with a sudden assault by a patient.
Cecelia recalls she reached out to help a patient, “and then I got kicked in the stomach out of nowhere and landed on another bedside. Before I knew it, I was on the floor choking, gasping for air and then I heard my co-worker shouting at me to move.
“I looked over, and I noticed the patient was on the floor ... crawling towards me. I was terrified and couldn’t move. The next thing I knew I was getting carried away.”
But, just as the name PTSD implies, the damage done from her attack did not end once her physical pain and bruises were all gone.
“So two weeks later, the bruises were all gone but ... I had trouble sleeping because I was having nightmares and I was hyper-aroused being overly sensitive to my surroundings,” she says.
“Then one day, I heard my co-worker screaming for help. That really got my heart racing. I ran over to help. When I got there I saw a patient punching and kicking, yelling and spitting. Normally I would be pretty calm but I literally froze.
“When I went to get some fresh air to clear my head, I thought I was ready, I was good. But then as I was walking back to the ICU I started crying uncontrollably and I couldn’t return to my bedside and that is when I feared for my life.”
Struggling to get treatment
Cecilia initially tried to work through the trauma herself. She was only approved for psychological support 14 months after the event. She is far from alone.
According to the BC Nurses Union, 26 nurses suffer a violent attack on the job each month. LPNs, RNs, and RPNs accounted for 31 percent of injuries from acts of violence in the province, according to figures from the BC Nurses Union published in 2019.
Nurses in BC had a long fight just to get their right to treatment for job-related PTSD recognized in May 2019—unlike first responders, correctional officers, and sheriffs who had long been granted access to PTSD treatment without having to prove that it was associated with their job.
“Nurses witness a lot of suffering,” says BC Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen. “If you’re working in ICU, Children’s Hospital, it all gets to be very traumatic for everybody.”
Pandemic makes it worse
The pandemic has only made this situation worse by adding an additional layer of stress to a system that was already at the breaking point.
A September survey carried out by the University of British Columbia and BC Nurses Union found that 41 percent of nurses suffered from anxiety and depression during the first wave of COVID-19—a 400% jump from a pre-covid survey.
Sorensen said she is encouraged by the steps healthcare workers are taking to protect themselves.
If you are a nurse who is struggling and are looking to get help, reach out to email@example.com
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