AN INTERVIEW WITH FOUNDER SHANNON MCPEEK.
Please describe Operation Happy Nurse (OHN) in 1-2 sentences.
We are a nonprofit organization whose goal is to help nurses struggling with stress, anxiety, and/or depression in their profession.
Can you share the moment you realized you wanted to create this non-profit organization? Where did the need come from, or what was that a-ha moment? What's your WHY?
I decided I wanted to create this nonprofit in 2018 after suffering from intense anxiety associated with my profession. I spoke to other nurses during this period of time and realized that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. Operation Happy Nurse was created to make sure no nurse feels alone.
Can you share one of your favorite memories since beginning the Operation Happy Nurse journey so far?
Honestly, I can’t pinpoint one memory, because it all has been so inspirational. I get to hear stories from so many nurses and know that what we are doing is important. That this community, this family, means something.
From your perspective as the founder, what has been the biggest challenge Operation Happy Nurse has had to overcome?
The biggest challenge has been funding. We have this amazing organization, but to upkeep such a community takes significant finances. Our team has been working constantly to raise the money we need to continue to offer this resource to the nursing community.
You founded Operation Happy Nurse in 2019 - then the pandemic hit. What has navigating COVID-19 really been like?
Operation Happy Nurse may have been founded in 2019, but the idea actually sparked in 2018. We did a survey in 2018, and even then our results showed a significant issue of anxiety, depression, stress with the nursing profession. Our survey consisted of 102 nurses where almost 80% of respondents reported suffering [from] stress, anxiety and/or depression as a result of their job. Note that this survey was conducted prior to COVID-19! Importantly 52% of respondents reported that there were no services available to them to treat their mental health issues. COVID-19 has just exacerbated a problem that already existed. ... My heart goes out to all the adult nurses, and the burnout they must be feeling.
It's likely that every reader knows a special nurse in their life. How can we support our superhero nurses today, both during the pandemic and far beyond it?
Just listen to them. Our particular stress is extremely hard to convey. If we are opening up about work, even if it is something that may sadden you, please let us vent about it. I have personal experience bottling things up, and I can tell you it doesn’t work (hence the start of Operation Happy Nurse). If a nurse in your life needs to talk about a traumatic experience, try to sit there and listen to them and show them love.
What does the future of Operation Happy Nurse look like to you?
I can’t fully tell you all of what Operation Happy Nurse’s future looks like (big things in the works!), but I hope that Operation Happy Nurse can be widely known in the nursing community as a family and a place where nurses can focus on self-care, because self-care is as important as the care we provide our patients.
Absolutely! As someone who also struggles with anxiety, I've learned it affects every occupation and person in different ways. Have you found any anxiety-related commonalities that others may be experiencing, much like nurses? What have been the best attainable practices you've found to ease those anxieties?
This is a tough question, because mental health manifests itself differently in every person. I have found that people tend to be wary of talking about their mental health for fear of being judged, which in all reality is extremely upsetting. We as a community need to uplift others, not tear them down. If someone is struggling through something, we need to support them in every way possible. I think each person’s best practices to ease anxiety differ. A stress reliever for one person, may cause stress in another. I think learning, and exploring different practices will lead you to what works best for yourself.
What are your go-to books, podcasts, or shows when it's time to care for your mental health?
I am just going to name drop our podcast here because it’s pretty epic. It’s called Happy Hour with Operation Happy Nurse where we openly discuss mental health as practicing nurses, and the reality of what it means in healthcare today. Happy Hour investigates alternative stress relief practices and dives deep into why they work to reduce stress.
In addition, I am a part of our Operation Happy Nurse book club, which I love because I am reading things I never would have discovered if it weren’t for OHN. I also love watching Friends, The Office, or Parks and Rec when I am stressed out and just need a good laugh.
Those shows are the best :). If you could end with one message to those struggling with mental health issues today, what would it be?
I know your mental health feels like a very personal issue, and one you feel like you need to go through alone. Just know that you aren’t in fact alone, and there are members of the community who understand you, see you, and will stand with you.
As of April 2021, Operation Happy Nurse has helped 343 nurses. Learn more about all the amazing work they're doing here.
Sign up for The Friyay Fuel newsletter here for more inspiring stories like this, paired with other fun finds, delivered directly to your inbox only when you need an extra boost of happy. ✨