Penn State nursing students helping to improve mental wellness

Penn State Altoona nursing students participating in the wellness board resource.

Penn State Altoona nursing students participating in the wellness board resource.

Credit: Penn State

ALTOONA, Pa. — When it comes to burnout, nursing students and health care professionals are victims of some of the highest rates of mental health struggles.

On a trip last year to the Penn State Athletics facility to get ideas for the upcoming renovations of the nursing science building, Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing Dean Laurie Badzek was inspired by a whiteboard that had mental health tips and tricks for the student-athletes, written by student-athlete peers.

The wellness board brought all student–athletes together to help one another and give their input on what habits improve their mental health. Each participant was able to take a sticky note and write down their own practices. Then, they attached it to the whiteboard for anyone in the building to read and see, and hopefully inspire others to implement.

Soon after, a variation of the mental health resource was born in the college to help nursing students find new avenues to reduce feelings of burnout and build resiliency. While the idea originated at University Park, Penn State Altoona soon adopted the same practices and began a wellness board of its own.

The mental wellness suggestion boards took off at both campuses and the results were astounding: Dozens of sticky notes lined the bulletin board with students' best-kept practices to prevent stress and burnout.

“We do care what’s going on and we do know that they are stressed,” said Amy Cristello, nursing instructor at Penn State Altoona. “We are trying to have that positive impact and some time for reflection outside of ‘when is my next test,’”

Cristello was ecstatic to see the interaction with the board and has encouraged all nursing students to take time and draw ideas from their peers.

“They were putting all kinds of [ideas] up and I’ve gone to four or five different groups, and they don't hesitate,” Cristello said.

Another goal, said Christello, is to maintain a wellness board at every campus, so no matter where the students are, the resources are available to them too.

The wellness board is part of a bigger initiative within the college, the “MINDSTRONG” program. The program is a seven-week course delivered by trained facilitators that allows students to develop coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, depression and more for their future as nurses.

Altoona BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) student Tessa Hampton has taken various lessons from the wellness board and her MINDSTRONG training and will take what she learned with her throughout her professional career.

“It took the stigma away from struggling in nursing school because everyone wants to have perfect grades and be the best they can be, but that’s really not possible without internal wellness,” Hampton stated.

Moving forward, the college hopes to make MINDSTRONG a requirement throughout the nursing curriculum and student body and continue to expand resources for mental health support.