We interviewed Nurse Practitioner and Mental Health Advocate, Dr. Shelby Collins! With her DNP work, she explored the impact of stigma on healthcare worker burnout and mental health help seeking behaviors as a strategy for improved safety outcomes, quality of care and well-being within healthcare delivery organizations.
Question: What is the main focus of your career?
Answer: In my career, I am focusing on mental health advocacy for nurses and healthcare workers. I am working on encouraging nurses to take better care of their mental health by focusing on breaking the barriers that stigma causes in our profession. Many times, nurses feel the need to conceal or avoid mental health care due to fear of career repercussions. I am currently working with Georgia Nurses Association’s Legislative Institute which is a state-level professional organization for nurses to better understand the legislative process so that I can better advocate for this issue. I have an entrepreneurial spirit, I started my first business at 25 so I would love to take my advocacy in that direction whether it be innovation with a digital app for nurses or a nonprofit.
Question: What does mental health mean to you?
Answer: To me, mental health is the ability to live the most fulfilled life you possibly can. It is not one size fits all. There is also an aspect of resilience and by this, I mean with whatever life throws at you being able to reset. It takes practice but keeping a state of regulation is important.
Question: What is the most important lesson you learned through your Doctoral project?
Answer: My doctoral work focused on mental health stigma in nursing, where I implemented a quality improvement project aimed at increasing use of one of our existing mental health resources. During this process, I had to practice the skill of taking things one step at a time. I have always been a go getter and a big picture thinker. I was always looking ahead but this experience really forced me to take smaller steps. It was how I stayed focused and how I kept myself well. I learned that small steps turn into big gains.
Question: What inspired you to pursue mental health advocacy?
Answer: I have always been passionate about the field of psychology. In nursing, no matter what area you specialize in there is always a component of mental health. One of the first things we learn is therapeutic communication where we support patients who are going through difficult times mentally or physically. I decided to focus on advocacy due to my lived experiences. When I started the program I experienced a decline in my mental health and I was forced to withdraw. When I started to open up and tell my story, I saw how many nurses were also struggling. So I made the decision to take my experience to help others.
Question: What do you think is the most effective way to spread mental health awareness?
Answer: I definitely think storytelling is the best way. Sharing your story makes a difference. It does not have to just be on a big public platform, it can even mean opening up to a friend.
Question: What do you think is the most important component of maintaining positive wellness growth?
Answer: Recognizing that setbacks and failures are part of each of our own journeys; resilience and how we work to keep moving forward is a big part of maintaining positive wellness growth. I think knowing things may go wrong but being able to turn those into learning moments is important. It is not about perfection, it is about learning, growth, and moving forward.
Question: Is there any advice you would give to someone who is struggling with their mental health?
Answer: The first thing I would say is to always reach out even if you feel like people do not want to be around you or you feel like isolating yourself. Know that you are never a burden to anyone. Secondly, know that you create your own joy and happiness. It is not something you are going to get externally. It is up to you. I know that when you are in the throes of depression it can seem impossible. Being able to find happiness in the small things definitely helps. Additionally, it is okay to get help - no matter what degree you have, how powerful you are, or how worried you are about how it will affect your career or family. Finally, if you have trouble finding professional help, reach out to groups like NAMI or the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network. They will not replace professional medical care but they can provide fast support because it is not uncommon for it to take some time to get into professional care.