When Trauma Hits Home: Nurses’ Mental Health with Katrina Stephenson and Sarah Bohachyk

Nurses see patients at some of the most challenging times of their lives. But nurses can also experience their own struggles, at which point their own self-care and wellness need to take priority.

In this emotional and inspirational episode, hosts Gail Donner and Mary Wheeler speak with Katrina Stephenson and Sarah Bohachyk about the mental health struggles that nurses themselves face.

Katrina and Sarah describe their own personal struggles with mental health injuries, and how their trauma has affected their personal and professional lives over the past number of years. They openly share their personal experiences, and what they have done to overcome their challenges. As co-founders of Nurse 2 Nurse Peer Support, Katrina and Sarah are ensuring that their experiences can empower and educate other nurses. Watch and listen to their stories now.

We are very thankful to the Mental Health Commission of Canada for their generous sponsorship of this episode.

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About Our Guests

Katrina Stephenson RN, BScN
Founder and CEO Nurse 2 Nurse Peer Support
VP Alberta Nurses Coalition for Harm Reduction
Mindful Nurse Gardener
MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) Certified

From Katrina:

Over the last 16 years, I have passionately focused the majority of my nursing career in the harm reduction field and caring for individuals challenged by Concurrent Disorders; both mental health and substance use challenges, including trauma. I also have lived experiences, which supports my ways of knowing. I have compassionately cared for both my patients’ traumas and my own work-related occupational nursing stress injuries of PTSD, Anxiety with Panic, Severe Depression and Hypothyroidism.

In order for nurses to provide safe and holistic care, we need adequate supports from the government, insurance agencies, employers, regulatory bodies, unions, and peers in order to create psychologically safe workplaces.

The environments we work in have constrained budgets, politically we have governments cutting programs and threats to cut nursing positions. There are excessive workloads and little to no on-site wellness programs to buffer the stressors. We are exposed to much more trauma and violence than the public is aware of and we are not given all the tools to do our job.

As a nurse that has worked in these socio-political environments that are not all trauma informed and that are ideologically opposed to harm reduction, it can be very challenging and from my experience all the above puts us at risk for occupational stress injuries (OSI).

I believe it is essential for us all to care for each other. It is not ‘Them vs. Us’. We need to approach each other with compassion and understanding around mental health and substance use challenges in such a way to reduces shame and stigma.

Storytelling is my way and a powerful way to support changing the negative climate surrounding many mental health conditions and injuries we see in Nursing.

As someone who has cared for my own work related trauma injuries, in 2020, I founded Nurse 2 Nurse Peer Support with other lovely nurses to advocate, educate and support our nursing peers to prevent, mitigate and care for OSI. It is time for change and for us Nurses to have the supports necessary to continue the work we love to do.

“I may have been injured though I am far from being broken. And it is possible to heal and not do it alone.”

Sarah Bohachyk RN, MN (student)
Co-founder, Nurse 2 Nurse Peer Support
Advocacy & Education Director, N2NPS

From Sarah:

I was raised to be a leader, to advocate and care for others, to educate myself, and to not shy away from a challenge. Naturally, I found myself drawn to a career as a Registered Nurse. I was part of the first graduating BScN class from MacEwan University and became an initial member of a peer mentorship group for other students.

After graduation I specialized in emergency department nursing and continued to support and advocate for my peers for over a decade. I was actively involved in the department, from the Peer Mentorship Program, Quality Council Committee, Collaborative Care Committees, and Key Performance Indicator Council. I also started my Masters of Nursing degree and expect to be completed by spring 2022.

Unfortunately, in 2020 the impact of compounding traumas developed into occupational induced PTSD. I struggled for over a year to address my mental health and was disappointed by the lack of systemic support provided to healthcare professionals. This is when I joined forces with other nurses to co-found Nurse 2 Nurse Peer Support, a non-profit organization to provide peer support to nurses. My nursing career has shaped me into a stronger person and I am excited to see what the future holds.

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