Mental health problems and burnout among healthcare workers

Mental health problems and burnout among healthcare workers

A recent report has shown that mental health problems and burnout are prevalent among healthcare workers.

The report, published in July by The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) and funded by the RCN Foundation, has shown that even before the pandemic, challenging working conditions led to widespread mental health problems for nurses and midwives, who are already at greater risk of stress and burnout than those in most other jobs.

The report, ‘The Mental Health and Wellbeing of Nurses and Midwives in the United Kingdom’, is authored by Professor Gail Kinman and Dr Kevin Teoh from Birkbeck University of London and identifies workplace problems such as bullying, lack of support, and emotional demands as some of the key factors contributing to poor mental health in the workforce. Professor Anne Harriss, President of the SOM, reviewed and analysed the research evidence, alongside an experienced nurse.

Working conditions

The report highlights that current working conditions experienced by nurses and midwives pose a significant threat to their mental health, and that this not only threatens the health of nurses and midwives, but also impacts on their ability to deliver high quality care to patients.

Professor Harriss said: “The report clearly highlights the lack of knowledge and training of managers to deal with the high level of stress experienced by nurses and midwives. For example, many ward managers receive minimal, if any, training regarding the impact of shift work on the health of staff. This knowledge is essential when planning staffing rotas to mitigate any possible negative impact on health.”

Professor Kinman said: “Action is urgently needed to improve the mental health and wellbeing of UK nurses and midwives and the COVID-19 pandemic has raised additional concerns. The additional demands placed on staff by the pandemic means their wellbeing is likely to deteriorate further if the findings of our report are not acted upon. Our report has highlighted the need for evidence-informed, systemic interventions to tackle the causes of work-related stress in the sector and we have identified some initiatives that might be particularly effective.”

Action is needed

Action is needed to address the organisational causes of poor mental health and wellbeing in nurses and midwives such as high work demands, poor leadership, lack of resourcing and workplace bullying, says the report.

The authors found that many staff are reluctant to disclose mental health difficulties and avoid asking their managers for support, and where support is available, information is often poorly disseminated. To avert a mental health crisis among staff, more healthy working environments are needed for nurses and midwives, the stigma of disclosing mental health problems should be reduced. Managers and leaders also need training to identify and alleviate stress in staff.

The report also recommends that phased approaches to return to work should be available to nurses and midwives who are struggling with their mental wellbeing, and that should be able to self-refer to services, or for occupational health support, rather than go through their managers. It is particularly important for them to be given the time to access support systems and to participate in interventions and training.

Finally, nurses and midwives should be also be required to take their full entitlement to breaks and always have access to appropriate food and drink and bathroom facilities.

Deepa Korea, RCN Foundation Director says: “The challenges faced by the nursing and midwifery profession in the current climate means that the mental health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives has never been more important. The Foundation will continue to focus on this critical issue to ensure it receives the attention it deserves.”

To read the recommendations from the SOM Report click here. Front line support is provided here and the RCN has a toolkit on healthy workplaces.

How is COVID-19 impacting the mental health of nurses?


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