The past two years have been hard for healthcare workers. That’s not to say that the time before the pandemic started was a walk-in-the-park, but everyone can agree that the onset of the pandemic has increased the stress and general difficulties of those in the healthcare field exponentially.The COVID-19 pandemic turned what was already a challenging and high-stress field into something that those currently in the field could not even imagine.
With a job that quite literally has the well-being and lives of patients hanging in the balance, it’s understandable why mental health concerns are the highest within this group. However, suicide rates are also typically highest among healthcare workers, so it’s important to acknowledge what it is about the healthcare field that increases theirmental health decline, and what can be done to address it.
Factors Contributingto Poor Mental Health in Healthcare Workers
Multiple factors common to the healthcare field can lead to increased stress and poor mental health in healthcare workers.
Very Stressful and Emotional Situations
Healthcare workers typically spend their day surrounded by sick individuals. Despite the illness not affecting them personally, being a healthcare worker often requires empathy, which can leave healthcare workers feeling the pain and fear experienced by each patient and family personally. With the number of people healthcare workers see in a day, it can wear on them.
Not only do healthcare workers feel for their patients, but they are in a stressful situation where the well-being of a patient relies on them and their ability to care for them. This can be very stressful, and many healthcare workers may find themselves reflecting on what they should have done differently when their care did not provide the results they had hoped. What happens at work lingers long after the workday is done for those in the healthcare field.
Demanding Physical Work and Risk of Injury
Those in the healthcare field are often on their feet all day, sometimes with no break to take a moment to themselves and process what has happened until their shift is over.
Not only that, but their occupation puts them at risk of injury from patients, a hazard that those in the healthcare field must simply be conscious of and prepared at all moments to subdue.
Risk Of Hazardous Exposure
In addition to the additional risk of COVID-19 that the pandemic has introduced, those in the healthcare field have long been at a high risk of infectious diseases, hazardous drugs and chemicals, and other conditions.
Long And Potentially Unpredictable Hours of Work
Healthcare workers often work very long shifts that can be very busy with very few breaks. This kind of work environment leads many healthcare workers to find that the stress of their work builds up with no available outlet.
Sometimes the hours of work are also unpredictable. As humans, we are creatures of habit and like knowing when something will happen, as it provides a set schedule to follow.However, those in the healthcare field often work unpredictable hours, sometimes leaving them unable to calm down and relax after work because they constantly wonder if they will be called back in.
Staffing Shortages and Increasing Workloads
Many healthcare facilities face increasing staffing shortages, which leaves their current employees overworked both in time and workload. When this continues for an extended period of time, the typical symptoms of being overworked appear in those who play an essential role in the well-being of others. Combine this with the stressful knowledge of having someone else’s life in your hands, and healthcare workers are in a dangerous position.
If left unchecked, healthcare workers in locations with staffing shortages may also face burnout, an extreme form of exhaustion resulting from prolonged and excessivephysical, emotional, and mental stress.
Dangers Of Poor Mental Health
In everyday life, poor mental health can have a drastic impact on not only our quality of life but also our job performance.
However, for healthcare workers any deterioration in job performance can have a drastic impact since their jobs entail the care and well-being of others. Those with poor mental health, especially those feeling highly stressed, fatigued, and burnt out, are at an increased risk of making a mistake in their care. It cannot be understated how serious a mistake made by healthcare workers can be.
Add all this to the fact that healthcare workers typically put their own ailments aside to care for their patients, and their mental health can take a significant hit.
A 2020 survey of healthcare workers concluded the following results:
- 93% of healthcare workers were experiencing stress
- 86% reported anxiety
- 77% reported frustration
- 76% reported burnout and exhaustion
- 75% felt overwhelmed
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased burnout and chronic fatigue experienced by healthcare workers, many are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder from their time working through the pandemic. 37% of survey responders reported symptoms of PTSD, many on a same level as combat veterans.
A 2021 survey found that 32% of healthcare workers reported symptoms of depression, which, if left untreated, can progress to suicidal thoughts or even actions.
Most suicidesoccur from those in the healthcare profession. A 2019 review of over 60 studies analyzed the nature of suicide in healthcare workers, and the review found that physicians, especially female physicians, are at a significant and increased risk of suicide.
A 2017 questionnaire sent to nurses and general workforce members found that nurses experience suicidal ideation more than general workers, and 403 survey responders (of 86,858 nurses) reported suicidal ideation within the past year.
As for physicians, a 2019 report concluded that theirstandardized mortality ratio (SMR) for suicide was 1.44, and this increases to 1.9 in females. The study also found that specialties such as anesthesiologists, general practitioners, psychiatrists, and general surgeons may be at a higher risk. Overall, there was a 1% suicide attempt in physicians and 17% suicide ideation.
Future healthcare workers are at increased risk of suicide, too. A study on fourth year medical students and residents found that 9.4% of participants reported suicidal thoughts in the past two weeks. In addition, suicide is the leading cause of death among male residents, and the second leading cause of death for female residents.
Factors that commonly contribute to suicide include burnout, increased workload, and fatigue, conditions that are all too common to healthcare professionals, likely contributing to the higher suicide rates of those in this field.
How Healthcare Workers Can Look After Their Mental Health
Talk It Out
Whether with family, friends, or a trained professional, it helps to talk through what is weighing on you. Of course, healthcare professionals cannot disclose any personal information about their patients, but they can still talk through some of the trials they endure and seek guidance on better managing the stress.
Focus On Yourself
It can be challenging for healthcare workers to focus on their own well-being since they are so used to putting others first, but it is an essential part of managing the stress that comes with their job. And in the end, the better healthcare workers manage their stress, the better they will be at their job.
Use Resources Specific to Healthcare Workers
There are general resources to help manage workplace stress, but healthcare workers significantly benefit from a program specifically dedicated to their field. With Hope4Med, members can access a safe place to process the day-to-day, milestones, special events, and unexpected occurrences without judgment.
The materials offered by the Hope4Med approach also enable and teach healthcare professionals how to navigate stressors successfully and efficiently, making the workday much more manageable.
With Hope4Med, members can find solace in being surrounded by other members in the same field they are in, providing solidarity and reducing feelings of loneliness. Members areencouraged to share their narratives and personal experiences with others to gain insight from other members and ensure each other that no one is going through this alone.
What Should Future Healthcare Workers Do?
Current healthcare workers are not the only ones feeling the stress of the field. Medical, nursing, and pharmacy students also endure extreme stress, and can benefit from the resources offered by Hope4Med.
The key to avoiding unpleasant situations in the first place is to have proper support in place before starting. Implementing healthy habits before entering the healthcare field sets you up for success, making it so you always have the resources and means to handle any workplace stress and avoid burnout.
The Importance of Mental Health in Healthcare Workers
The healthcare field is a place of high stress from a variety of causes, including infection risk, potential patient injury, and increasing workload. The nature of the healthcare field can be overwhelming, and there has been a severe lack of resources available specifically for healthcare professionalsto not only help them make it through their workdays but thrive.
In 2019, 12 million Americans seriously considered suicide while 47,511 people died by suicide, which is about one suicide every eleven minutes. Healthcare workers are at an increased risk of becoming part of that statistic, and Hope4Med helps to provide a community of healthcare professionals and resources needed to lower this number. Healthcare workers play a significant role in caring for those who are sick and unable to care for themselves, but that does not mean that they also do not need to be taken care of.
With Hope4Med, current and future healthcare professionals can learn skills needed to handle stressors while also having an online community full of others in the healthcare field who can provide support. No one understands what you are going through better than a fellow healthcare professional, which is why this platform created by a healthcare professional for healthcare professionals will have everything you need.
Whether you have been in the field for a decade or are only a student, it’s essential to put your emotional and mental well-being first, and Hope4Med offers the perfect place. No one should feel as though they have no way to escape the stress and pressure of their work, and Hope4Med is here to provide a solution. If you are interested in being a part of this community, join our movement today and take the first step in protecting your mental health.