A new study shows that an increase in harassment is exacerbating the mental health crisis among U.S. health workers, as evidenced by higher levels of burnout compared with the rest of the U.S. workforce late in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The share of health workers reporting being threatened or harassed on the job more than doubled from 6.4% in 2018 to 13.4% in 2022, according to a survey-based analysis released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health workers who reported harassment were more likely to experience anxiety, depression and burnout by 2022 than those who did not, according to the study, which also found that 19% of health workers reported feeling burnout “often” that year , compared with 12% four years ago.
The report’s findings are based on responses from U.S. adult workers surveyed in 2018 and 2022, and the CDC said it is the first to describe and compare the self-reported well-being and working conditions of health workers and other essential workers. report, which included “frontline non-health workers” and all other workers before and after the pandemic began, the study said.
Over the four-year period, the incidence of reported on-the-job harassment among essential workers in non-health areas increased from 7.9% to 10.8%, while the incidence of on-the-job harassment among all other workers fell from 7% to 6.6%. The proportion of other essential workers who experienced burnout “often” remained relatively stable at 15.5% in 2022, compared with 15.1% in 2018, while the proportion of all other workers increased from 12.8% over the study’s time frame. 14.1%.
Overall, nearly 46% of health workers reported experiencing burnout often or very often in 2022, compared with about 40% for other essential workers and 37% for all other workers.
“Burnout among these workers has reached crisis levels,” Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday when discussing the report’s findings with reporters. “While health workers often work diligently to care for others in their time of need, it is our nation’s health workers who are suffering now and we must act.”
The researchers said that while the number of “poor mental health days” (based on the average number of days in the past 30 days that people considered their mental health to be “poor”) was similar across all three categories of workers in 2022, health workers found that there was a significant decrease from 2018. A significant increase from 3.3 days to 4.5 days in 2022. Essential workers reported an average of 4.1 poor mental health days in the past 30 days in 2022, up from 3.7 days in 2018, while all other workers reported an average of 4.3 days with poor mental health, up from the 2022 average Number of days. 3.8.
Notably, the researchers said the proportion of health workers who said they felt “very happy” did not change significantly between 2018 and 2022, falling from 32% to 29.7%, although basic factors such as happiness fell to 20.5% . 26.3% among workers and others.
Meanwhile, a greater proportion of health workers say they intend to find another job by 2022, with 16.5% “very likely” to do so, compared with 11.1% in 2018. Intention to leave both essential staff and all other staff declined between 2018 and 2022.
The findings are similar to previous studies that have provided evidence of how the past few years have negatively impacted the mental and emotional health of U.S. health care workers. An analysis published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that the burnout rate among more than 40,000 health care workers was 50% in 2020, with 29% of a sample of more than 15,000 respondents expressing intention to leave their job.
Dr. L. Casey Chosewood, director of the Office of Total Worker Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said on a conference call Tuesday that the share of health workers in recent studies who said they planned to leave their jobs may include some who Deciding to leave the field entirely because of early retirement or decision to change careers.
“In fact, there are people who are not only jumping from one hospital to another, but … they are very worried about the system in general,” Josswood said. “Obviously, this is another wake-up call that the focus needs to be on long-term systemic fixes.”
The report notes that positive working conditions, including employees taking a more active role in decision-making and having enough time to complete their work, may help curb burnout and mental health-related issues. Both Houry and Joswood said the report’s findings called for employers to improve working conditions by first acknowledging health workers’ concerns and then working with them to identify ways to reduce stressors.
To support these efforts, Houry announced NIOSH plans to launch a national campaign this fall to provide hospital leaders with resources to help improve health worker well-being.
“We don’t just want to treat workers who are suffering, we want to prevent all workers from being harmed in the first place,” Josswood said. “The ultimate goal is to build a sustainable infrastructure and optimize the culture of health care environments for future generations of health workers.”