Nursing students: Depression, anxiety and stress

A new study shows that nursing students have higher scores on an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) survey than the general public, and that those students with high ACE scores have significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and stress.

These results were reported on October 28 by a College faculty research group led by principal investigator, Dr. Jane Hedrick PhD, RN, who recently completed a study of our BSN students.

“Our faculty recognize that nursing school and a career in nursing may lead to significant stress, due to the challenges presented by the meeting the demands of the nursing curriculum, working long hours, witnessing traumatic events and dealing with life and death situations,” said Hedrick explaining why this research was conducted.

The results of this descriptive correlational study showed that of the 409 students who volunteered to participate in the study, the percentage of students with high ACE Scores was 17%—higher than the national average of 13%. In addition, those students with high ACE scores showed significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and stress.

Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs were first studied at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997. Defined as events occurring in childhood that can cause trauma, ACEs experiences can result in physical and mental health conditions that can result in shortened life expectancy. Examples of potentially traumatic experiences include being a victim of violence and/or witnessing violence in the home, abuse, or neglect, having a family member attempt or die by suicide, growing up in a household with substance misuse, mental health problems, or instability due to parental separation or incarceration of a parent, sibling, or other member of the household.

“Previous research has shown that adverse childhood experiences may have a long lasting impact on the physical and mental health of adults and a shortened life expectancy. In addition, exposure to these experiences leads to higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress,” said Hedrick.

These research findings support the need for formal and sustained programs designed to help students become more resilient and to engage in self-care which is very important during nursing school and will become even more critical once they begin their career. The Burdge Family Foundation has supported this faculty research and funding is in place to provide support for programming and support resources for nursing students going forward.

“Our research group was not surprised at these findings and we believe that developing interventions that enable our nursing students to build resiliency and minimize depression, anxiety and stress during their undergraduate education and future nursing careers, is key to supporting our students and preparing them for a career as a professional in health care,” said Hedrick.

The research group included Jane Hedrick, PhD, RN, PI; Vicki Bennett RN, MSN; Jacque Carpenter, PhD, RN; Lauren Dercher MSN, RN, PCCN; Kensey Gosch, MS; Deb Grandstaff MSN, RN; Laura Grier, MSN, APRN; Vicki Meek, MSN, RN, CNE; Mary Poskin, MSN, RN; Emma Shotton, MSN, RN, CMSRN; and James D. Waterman, MSN, RN, CMSRN.