Healthcare workers are more likely to experience burnout and poorer mental health than before the pandemic

A nurse treats a coronavirus patient in the intensive care unit of a Leonardtown hospital on May 1, 2020. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

According to findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care workers are facing a growing number of mental health issues, which may lead to burnout or consideration of another career path. The CDC urges healthcare employers to take care of employees’ mental health and create a healthy work environment.

A report released this week, Vital Signs: Perceived Working Conditions and Symptoms of Poor Mental Health among Health Workers, shows that health care workers are now more likely to report that they are in the workplace and Struggling with Anxiety, Depression, Harassment and Stress Compared to surveys before the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues are more complex.

“We don’t just want to treat workers who are suffering. We want to prevent this harm to all workers in the first place,” said L. Casey Chosewood, director of the Office of the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The report draws its conclusions from surveys conducted in 2018 and 2022, comparing health care workers to non-health care workers.

Health workers were already facing troubling mental health stress before the pandemic. In 2018, about 32% of healthcare workers reported feeling burned out due to work stress.

But reports say workplace stress has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a lack of support from supervisors, time to complete tasks, and even harassment issues. In 2022, the proportion of medical staff experiencing burnout will increase to 46%.

The report also shows that by 2022, about 57% of health care workers will report anxiety symptoms, compared with 51% of other workers.

Despite this, 34% of healthcare workers also reported symptoms of depression, which was lower than other workers. In 2022, nearly 42% of non-healthcare workers reported depressive symptoms.

Data points for anxiety and depression symptoms in 2022 cannot be compared to the 2018 survey because the previous survey did not ask these questions.

Another stress factor at work is the occurrence of harassment, which has increased during the pandemic, the report said.

In 2018, about 6% of medical staff were threatened or harassed at work. By 2022, this proportion will rise to 13%. Harassment experienced by other workers also increased during this period, from 8% to 11%.

The data found that these workplace struggles also impact employment and retention.

Healthcare workers are now more likely to say they are likely to try to find a new job with a new employer within the next 12 months. Data show that 44% of medical staff surveyed in 2022 expressed interest in new job opportunities, compared with 33% in 2018.

“To call our current and ongoing challenges a ‘crisis’ would be an understatement,” Joss Wood said. “Many of our nation’s health care systems are on the verge of collapse. The staffing crisis, lack of supportive leadership, long hours, and excessive demands and responsibilities across our nation’s health systems must be addressed.”

About 36% of health care workers said they “sometimes” don’t have enough staff, while 26% said they “often” don’t have enough staff to do all the work they need, the report said.

To address health care staffing issues, the CDC calls on health care providers to create healthier work environments that improve mental health, such as by encouraging employees to take paid time off for illness, rest, and family needs.

The CDC advises employers to find ways to prevent harassment of employees and urges everyone to thank health care workers for their work and treat them with respect as they care for patients.

The agency also recommended that supervisors include more employee voices in decision-making processes, as “health workers who were involved in decision-making were 0.56 times more likely to report depressive symptoms than health workers who reported not being involved in decision-making.”

Collaboration between workers and employees can also facilitate communication about worker health needs and how to improve workplace conditions.

The CDC says another major way to improve workers’ mental health is to “ensure adequate staffing levels.”

Staffing levels are a major concern for many health care workers.

The major health care provider drew national attention in October when 75,000 workers on the West Coast went on strike for three days. Mid-Atlantic Kaiser workers have participated in smaller actions to protest staffing shortages and push for new workforce retention and hiring policies.

The union believes inadequate staffing not only increases stress and worsens mental health, but also affects the ability to adequately care for patients.

As of Oct. 12, the union announced a tentative agreement with Kaiser Permanente that includes 21% across-the-board wage increases over several years: 6% in October 2023; 5% in October 2024; 5% in October 2025; 5% in October 2026.

The tentative contract also lays out “a comprehensive set of initiatives to invest in the workforce and address the staffing shortage crisis,” according to the Kaiser Permanente union federation.

“Millions of Americans are safer today because of tens of thousands of dedicated health care workers,” Kaiser Permanente union executive director Carolyn Lucas said in a written statement about the plan. Personnel fought for and won critical resources they and their patients needed.” Tentative Agreement. “This historic agreement will set a higher standard for health care across the country.”

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