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To be vulnerable is to be heroic: advice for nurses working during a pandemic
Oct 05, 2020

Editor’s note: Canadian Nurse recently conducted a video interview with Louise Bradley, the president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Watch the video (above) to hear Louise tell her story or read the following condensed article below.

Louise Bradley has learned a lot of leadership lessons from having been a nurse for many years. “As a nurse,” she says, “you get to draw on several skills because you’re exposed to many different situations.”

Louise’s experience with mental health began when she was a child, living in several foster homes, and carried on through graduate school, where she struggled to deal with the death of her best friend by suicide. She has spent most of her career in a wide variety of mental health settings, but perhaps her most important experience was working in a large hospital, where she realized her real role was tackling the workplace’s stigma toward mental health issues.

Why mental health is important

Louise believes being vulnerable is incredibly important, because it allows nurses to feel comfortable to share their own stories. Hiding your feelings and struggles is bad for you and your patients. “The care that you give is impacted if you aren’t looking after your own mental health”.

How the Mental Health Commission can help

Louise recommends two key courses from the Mental Health Commission of Canada. They’re condensed, online versions of two of their most popular in-person courses. Many nurses and physicians have taken the in-person version of these courses and found them extremely useful.

  • Mental Health First Aid is a course that allows you to identify mental health problems and what to do about them. Just as physical first aid is administered, mental health first aid is given until appropriate treatment is found.
  • The Working Mind is an assessment of your own mental health. It’s not a program that pathologizes any of the feelings you’re having, but builds on your resiliency. It’s a colour-coded assessment tool that allows you to see when you’re starting to get to a level that requires action.

Tips for nurses working during a pandemic

Above all, Louise believes that mental health is just as important as physical health. But she recognizes that for nurses, it’s complex. “That’s why it’s important to know when to reach out for help. Nurses have been trained and educated to think that we’re the caregiver, not the care receiver. It’s really hard to switch those roles, they’re both extremely intertwined,” she says.

Because of the stigma, nurses come to believe that they must be superheroes all the time. But being vulnerable allows us to regain our strength so that we’re able to provide the best care that we possibly can. Louise is a living example of that.

Louise Bradley, CM MS, RN, CHE, has dedicated her professional life to improving the mental health of Canadians. In her current role as president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, she oversaw the development of Canada’s first federal mental health strategy, undertook the signature Opening Minds anti-stigma initiative, and created a globally recognized knowledge exchange centre.