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Stop the Stigma: Battling Depression in NP School

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Stop the Stigma: Battling Depression in NP School


There’s no contesting that nurse practitioner students undergo an extensive amount of pressure and stress. Between discussion boards, on-campus intensives, writing papers, scholarly projects, and clinical rotations, the workload never seems to cease. But situational stressors and depression are not the same. While stress can contribute to depression and be a cause of it, they are not synonymous. Depression can be surreptitious which means it progresses over time and can go unrecognized until you are depressed. Therefore, it is paramount to identify the symptoms early on. Some symptoms that NP students should pay close attention to include memory problems, oversleeping, insomnia, lack of concentration, and mood swings. Here are some tips to help you pinpoint symptoms of depression, help prevent depression, and treat it while attending NP school:

“…situational stressors and depression are not the same.”

Get evaluated. See your primary care provider so you can rule out any underlying causes, such as thyroid disorders, anemia, chronic fatigue. If a prescription is warranted, there is a psychotropic test called Gene Sight that is widely used among providers, where a simple cheek swab can indicate which psychotropic medications will not work for you based on your genes. This helps eliminate the empirical cycle of trial and error that comes with medications for mental health treatment. Your provider can also help you choose a medication to help alleviate your depressive symptoms if pharmacological intervention is appropriate.
Change your diet. The impact of nutrition on mental health is debatable. However, some foods including omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts and seeds, plant oils are highly associated with lower bouts of depression. Fruits and vegetables are a substantial source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K which are also known to decrease risk of depression.
Consider non-pharmacologic interventions. Light is vital to life and has a direct impact on brain and body health. A therapy lamp can replace natural sunlight, especially in the winter months when seasonal affective disorder, or seasonal depression, is rampant. Research shows that light therapy lamps can support focus, boost mood, improve circadian rhythm. Setting it on your desk or counter while you eat breakfast, brush your teeth, or read a book in the morning for 15-30 minutes can make a positive impact on your mood for the day.
Get sleep. Adequate sleep is crucial to fighting depression. Typically, patients with depression either sleep too much or can’t sleep at all. A tool that can help you sleep are binaural beats, which sync with your brain waves. These beats naturally sync with your brain’s alpha waves which are known to improve relaxation so you can sleep. Try to get yourself in a routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time each night and morning.
Get out. For decades, research has shown working out is one of the best non-pharmacologic interventions to manage depression. Some studies even show that antidepressants and exercise are equally effective in some patients. Regular exercise boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain which is linked to enhanced mood and decreased anxiety.
Find what time of the day works best for you to do homework and study. Ask yourself. Are you a better learner or more focused in the morning? Does mid-day after lunch work for you? Or late at night? Once you figure this out, you can plan your homework or study plan around these hours. If you have activities to do that you know will last for 4+ hours, make sure to schedule yourself to do the most important things during the time you are most focused.
Keep faculty informed. From my experience, the faculty are typically supportive. If you are feeling depressed and it is interfering with your abilities to function in school, talk to them. Keep them in the loop so they are aware and possibly refer you to resources offered through your college.
Manage your money. Money problems can be a factor in becoming depressed and/or staying depressed. Depression can make earning money more difficult due to the inability to focus, sleep, difficulty making decisions. Therefore, it can make managing money challenging. Getting a financial plan together, especially during NP school, is incredibly important. Many students do not work full-time while in NP school full-time, so every dollar that comes in counts. An example of a plan can look like this: I make $2,000 a month. $200 of that is going into a high yield savings account, $1,500 of that goes toward the necessities (mortgage, insurance, groceries, gas). The remaining $300 can go toward non-necessities, such as eating out, phone bill, clothes, items for school. Financial stability can dramatically help alleviate symptoms of depression and help prevent depression due to financial stress.
Establish a Routine. The most underestimated tool to fight depression is establishing a routine. It is well-known that having a routine helps alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. With obscure symptoms like inability to focus, fluctuations in weight, sleeping problems, and moodiness, graduate students can effortlessly dismiss these symptoms and attribute them to the stress of school.

Depression can be debilitating, and seeking treatment early can make an immense difference in your quality of life. While depression sometimes cannot be prevented, there are resources and tips available to help you manage your symptoms and maintain a healthy mind and body. We, as students and nurse practitioners, must take our health seriously. Like the saying goes, “If we don’t make time for our wellness, we will be forced to make time for our illness.”

Have questions or would like more information on lifestyle management for NP students? Email us at info@npstudentmagazine.com We’d love to hear from you!

Opinions expressed by NPSM contributors are their own.

Elizabeth Francis, BSN, RN

Emergency Department registered nurse and doctoral student at Duke University, specializing in Psychiatric Mental Health and Addictions.

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