Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have raised the alarm about a "mental health crisis" for healthcare workers across the country.
A new report by the agency, using data from a nationwide survey conducted between 2018 and 20, found that in 2022 nearly half of all health workers felt burned out, compared to less than a third just four years earlier. The number of health workers reporting harassment at work has also more than doubled.
The report, released on Tuesday shows that mental health outcomes for health workers are worse than those of other industries. The findings follow the largest health care worker walkout in US history. 75,000 unionized Kaiser Permanente employees cited feelings of burning out and chronic staffing shortages in a walkout across five states and District of Columbia.
Debra Houry is the chief medical officer at the CDC. She said: 'Normally, health workers are there to help others when they're in need. But now, it's our own health workers that are suffering. We must act.
Houry said that even before the pandemic began, health workers had a demanding job. They faced long hours, unpredictable schedules, infectious diseases and difficult interactions with their patients and families.
Researchers have found that people in the medical profession, especially nurses, health assistants and technicians, are at a higher risk of suicide than those who do not work in this field.
Houry added that caring for sick people can be emotionally and physically draining. Houry said that despite doing everything possible to save lives, he still remembered some of his toughest patient cases, such as when he had to break the news to a spouse who was working about a cancer diagnosis or when he couldn't revive a toddler following a car accident.
After a shift such as this, I'd have to put up a good face and take care my family. In doing so, I did not always pay attention to my personal wellness needs', she continued.
Houry says that the Covid-19 epidemic made workplace challenges even worse. Health care providers were faced with a surge of patients, long working hours, and a shortage of supplies. These stresses led to an increase in mental health issues, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse problems, as well as a large part of the adult US population.
According to the study, health care workers have reported more days of poor mental health between 2018 and 2022. In 2018, 33% of health care workers said they wanted to find a new position.
The number of essential workers intending to search for a job decreased over the same time period.
Meanwhile, the number of healthcare workers who experienced harassment--including violent threats, bullying and verbal abuse from patients and coworkers--shot up from 6% to 13% during the study period.
According to a CDC report on harassment, it has a major impact on the mental health of health workers. Health workers who report being harassed are 5 times more likely to experience anxiety than those who do not. The CDC report found that those who experienced harassment were three times more likely to experience depression, and six times more likely to suffer burnout.
In contrast, 53% of workers who had not been harassed reported anxiety. 60% of those who were harassed reported depression. This is nearly twice as many health workers that did not experience harassment.
The report states that these consequences could be prevented by improving workplace policies and practices.
Burnout is less common among health workers who have enough time to finish their work, trust their managers and receive support from their supervisors.
Casey Chosewood is the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Office for Total Worker Health. Supportive work environments have a positive effect on health workers.
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The report recommended that employers encourage "cross-level employee involvement" in decision-making. Health workers who participated in the decision-making process were half as likely to experience depression symptoms. Chosewood suggested that supervisors provide support to their employees by monitoring the staffing requirements and taking seriously harassment reports.
The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health plans to launch a campaign in the fall to assist hospital leaders to address challenges facing health workers. This is part of an ongoing effort by the agency to increase awareness about mental health challenges faced by health workers.
Chosewood stated that the bottom line was to act on what we know. To call our long-standing and current challenge a crisis is a gross understatement. Our communities and our patients will benefit when our health workers thrive.