Senior Nursing Students at University of Kentucky Use Peer Support to Fight Mental Health Stigma

Depression in nurses is considered a silent epidemic, with nurses experiencing depression at twice the rate of others individuals according to a 2013 initiative from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. When University of Kentucky (UK) senior nursing student Sarah Wise started to feel stress, anxiety, and depression due to the pressures of nursing school, she realized she might not be the only student feeling the mental health effects of a rigorous nursing curriculum.

Many students feel a pressure to perform well academically. With expectations to master clinical skills and classroom material simultaneously, nursing students must find a balance between academics, clinical hours, and personal relationships. Coupled with learning how to cope with the pain and suffering that comes with spending time in a medical setting, the stress of nursing school can take a toll on the mental wellbeing of even the most seasoned student.

When Sarah decided to share her mental health struggle with her friends and classmates in the nursing program, she realized she wasn’t alone. With the help of classmates Kayla Combs and Cassie Snodgrass, the three nursing students organized a research project exploring the prevalence of mental health conditions in their fellow undergraduate nursing students. They decided to survey 160 sophomore nursing students at the University of Kentucky based off the fact that clinical rotations begin sophomore year.

According to UKNOW, their study found that 27 percent of sophomore students were taking medications for mental health disorders, 30 percent were dealing with mental health conditions, and most students rated their stress level as an eight or nine out of ten. In addition, they found that few students were utilizing on-campus mental health resources.

These results led to the creation of SMASH – Student Mentors Advocating for Student Health. SMASH uses peer advisers to teach coping methods and stress management skills, letting students know that they have a support system for dealing with mental health issues. The students who created SMASH hope to make a difference in fighting mental health stigma and inspire other college campuses to implement similar programs.