Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are sounding the alarm about a mental health crisis among healthcare workers across the country.
The agency’s new report, using national survey data from 2018 to 2022, found that nearly half of health care workers reported burnout in 2022, up from less than a third four years ago. Reports of healthcare workers being harassed at work have also more than doubled.
The report released Tuesday also found that healthcare workers face worse mental health problems than workers in other industries. The results come on the heels of the largest health care workers’ strike in U.S. history, in which 75,000 Kaiser Permanente union workers said they felt fatigued during the strike in five states and the District of Columbia. , and there is a chronic shortage of workers.
“While healthcare workers are generally caring for others in need, our nation’s healthcare workers are suffering right now and we need to act,” said Dr. Debra Houry, CDC’s chief medical officer. Horry added that even before the pandemic, health care workers’ jobs were demanding, with providers facing long hours and unpredictable schedules, exposure to infectious diseases and interactions with patients and their families that were often challenging.
Previous studies have shown that healthcare professionals, especially nurses, healthcare assistants, and healthcare technicians, have a higher risk of suicide than those who do not work in the medical field. “Patient care can also be extremely stressful and emotional,” Houri said. “Despite your efforts to save lives, I still remember some of the difficult patient cases I’ve dealt with when I broke the bad news of a terminal cancer diagnosis to a colleague, or when I couldn’t revive my young child after a car accident. “When I went through that transition, I had to perform well and take care of my family. In doing that, I didn’t always pay enough attention to my health needs.”
Houry said the Covid-19 pandemic has made the challenges in the workplace even more acute, with healthcare providers facing high patient volumes, long working hours and shortages of raw materials. These stressors exacerbate mental health complications, increase suicidal thoughts, and, like most American adults, lead to substance abuse problems.
The study found that between 2018 and 2022, the number of days on which healthcare professionals reported poor mental health increased. In the survey, 44% of healthcare workers said they wanted to find a new job, compared to 33% in 2018.
By comparison, the number of other key workers looking to find a new job fell over the same period. Meanwhile, the number of healthcare professionals who experienced harassment, including threats of violence, intimidation and verbal abuse of patients and colleagues, increased from 6% to 13% over the course of the study.
According to the CDC, harassment has a significant impact on the mental health of health care workers: health care workers who report harassment are five times more likely to report anxiety than health care workers who are not harassed. Those who experienced harassment were more than three times more likely to report depression and almost six times more likely to report burnout.
For example, 85% of healthcare workers who experienced harassment reported feeling anxious, compared to 53% of healthcare workers who did not experience harassment. 60 percent of victims of harassment reported suffering from depression, almost twice the rate of healthcare workers who had not experienced harassment.
However, the report says these effects can be prevented by improving workplace policies and practices. Research has shown that healthcare workers who trust management, have enough time to complete their work, and are supported by managers are less likely to experience burnout.
“We urge employers to take this message to heart and take preventative measures immediately,” said Kathy Joswood, director of the Office of Total Workforce Health at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “A supportive work environment has a positive impact on healthcare professionals.”
The report also recommends that employers encourage “employee participation at various levels” in decision-making: healthcare workers who help make decisions are about half as likely to report symptoms of depression. Joswood advises managers to support employees by monitoring staffing needs and taking reports of harassment seriously. The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also plans to launch a nationwide campaign this fall to help hospital leaders address health care worker well-being issues as part of the agency’s ongoing effort to raise awareness of health care efforts. part of an initiative to recognize psychological problems among relatives.
“The bottom line is: We need to take the research we have and act,” Joswood said. “To call our current and ongoing challenges a ‘crisis’ is an understatement. When our healthcare professionals thrive, patients in our communities, and indeed all of us, are better off.”