A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shed light on the deepening mental health crisis among healthcare workers. The study, released on Tuesday, reveals that healthcare workers are reporting higher levels of burnout, harassment, and symptoms of poor mental health than they did before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One striking finding of the report is the significant increase in the number of days healthcare workers reported having poor mental health in the past 30 days. This increase was more pronounced among healthcare workers when compared to other professions, spanning the years 2018 to 2022.
Even before the pandemic, healthcare workers were grappling with burnout, which was already at a crisis level. The pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. CDC Chief Medical Officer Debra Houry stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic only intensified many health workers’ long-standing challenges and contributed to new and worsening concerns including compassion fatigue, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and suicidal thoughts.
While usually healthcare workers care diligently for others in their time of need, it is now our nation’s healthcare workers who are suffering, and we must act.”
This report is the first to draw a comparison between the well-being and working conditions of healthcare workers before and after the start of the pandemic.
In 2022, approximately 46 percent of healthcare workers reported experiencing burnout often or very often, in contrast to 32 percent in 2018. Alarmingly, nearly half of healthcare professionals expressed the likelihood of seeking a new job, a stark contrast to other worker groups where job turnover intentions decreased.
The report also highlights a significant increase in harassment within the healthcare sector during the pandemic. In 2022, more than double the number of healthcare workers reported workplace harassment compared to 2018, with 13.4 percent in 2022, up from 6.4 percent in 2018.
For those healthcare workers who reported harassment, the consequences were dire. A staggering 85 percent reported feelings of anxiety, 81 percent experienced burnout, and 60 percent grappled with depression. Even among healthcare workers who did not report harassment, the report found that 53 percent experienced anxiety, 31 percent faced depression, and 42 percent suffered from burnout.
L. Casey Chosewood, senior author of the report and a director in CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, expressed, “To label our current and long-standing challenge a crisis is an understatement. Many of our nation’s healthcare systems are at their breaking point. We’re calling on employers to take this information to heart and take immediate preventive actions.”
The report revealed that workers who had trust in management, supervisor support, adequate time to complete their tasks, and felt that their workplace promoted productivity reported lower burnout rates and reduced odds of experiencing poor mental health.
Ways To Tackle Health Crisis Among Healthcare Workers
The CDC report recommended several actions to address the worsening mental health crisis among healthcare workers:
- Participation in Decision-Making: Employers should allow healthcare workers to participate in decision-making processes.
- Building Trust: Building trust in management is crucial.
- Supervisor Assistance: Providing supervisor assistance can significantly alleviate the mental health challenges faced by healthcare workers.
- Sufficient Time: Healthcare workers should be given sufficient time to complete their work, reducing stress and burnout.
- Harassment Prevention: Employers must take active steps to prevent harassment in the workplace.
The healthcare industry is now grappling with the reality that its workers are not immune to the burnout and mental health challenges experienced by the broader workforce. The pandemic has forced a reevaluation of working conditions within the healthcare sector, with employees increasingly demanding better conditions.
The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has launched a campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues among healthcare workers and provide resources to hospital leaders and other healthcare employers to eliminate barriers that impede mental health care.
As healthcare workers continue to voice their concerns, addressing the mental health crisis within the healthcare sector has become an urgent imperative.