Help-Seeking Behaviors

Nurses have experienced significant trauma since early 2020. Those working in emergency departments, critical care, medical-surgical, psychiatric, and mental health report higher stigma associated with seeking help. Studies indicate that nurses who may have a higher need for services, like other high-stress occupations, may be less likely to seek help. Organizations can take steps to normalize help-seeking behaviors through the following actions (1):

  • Educate nurses about the signs and symptoms to get help (2
  • Make health resources easy to access (3). 
  • Do not ask nurses about a past or present history of mental health conditions or treatment (4).
  • Limit common concerns to mental health and substance abuse help, such as confidentiality concerns, potential loss of license, or embarrassment over admitting a problem (5). 
  • Do not penalize nurses for taking sick time for mental health reasons (4). 
  • Remind teams that they are not alone (6).  
  • Consider an opt-out method rather than opt-in for mental health services in high-risk areas (7).
  • Provide free access to mental health resources, particularly during the workday (7, 8).
  • Model behaviors that promote self-monitoring (4). 


  1. American Nurses Foundation (2021). American Nurses Foundation. (2021). Pulse of the nation’s nurses survey series: mental health and wellness taking the pulse on emotional health, post-traumatic stress, resiliency, and activities for strengthening wellbeing. https://www. mh3-written-report-final.pdf
  2. American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA). (2020). American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA). (2020). Nurses Guide to Seeking Mental Health Services . Retrieved from
  3. Shapiro, D. E., Duquette, C., Abbott, L. M., Babineau, T., Pearl, A., & Haidet, P. (2018). Beyond Burnout: A Physician Wellness Hierarchy Designed to Prioritize Interventions at the Systems Level. The American Journal of Medicine, 132(5), 556–563.
  4. Quick Safety Issue 54. (2020). Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
  5. Cares, A., Pace, E., Denious, J., & Crane, L. A. (2014). Substance Use and Mental Illness Among Nurses: Workplace Warning Signs and Barriers to Seeking Assistance. Substance Abuse, 36(1), 59–66.
  6. Raza, B., St-Onge, S., & Ahmed, A. (2022). How help-seeking behaviors help reduce emergency nurses’ stress? International Emergency Nursing, 63, 101177.
  7. Shapiro, D.E., & Zangerle, C. (2022, April 11-14) Inspiring Leaders: 12 Recommendations from Studying Burnout, Violence, and Turnover . AONL 2022 Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX, United States
  8. Schlak, A. E., Rosa, W. E., Rushton, C. H., Poghosyan, L., Root, M. C., & McHugh, M. D. (2022c). An expanded institutional- and national-level blueprint to address nurse burnout and moral suffering amid the evolving pandemic. Nursing Management, 53(1), 16–27.