This past year, we have spent countless hours celebrating our healthcare heroes. We are so grateful to everyone who has worked tirelessly to fight the coronavirus pandemic and all of the challenges it has presented. However, we know gratitude alone is not enough — healthcare workers are physically and emotionally exhausted, and they need a helping hand. A recent survey done by Mental Health America showed 93% of healthcare workers were experiencing high stress levels, and 76% were feeling the symptoms of burnout. Healthcare workers are absolutely essential to keeping our society up and running, but they need support and relief from the stress of their daily work.
Read on to learn more about the mental health challenges facing healthcare workers, as well as what they (and their organizations) can do to take care of themselves.
Healthcare workers face a unique set of mental health challenges
Healthcare workers are on the front lines every single day. Whether providing physical health services in an emergency department or behavioral health services in a psychiatric unit, they are constantly face-to-face with challenging and tiring work. Behavioral health providers in particular deal with difficult, heavy subject matter so often they can become desensitized to their work — or end up taking it home with them after clocking out.
During COVID-19, these challenges only amplified. Visits to the emergency room drastically increased, particularly for children and adolescents. Rates of suicide and substance relapse have both skyrocketed. And, the already high demand for psychiatric providers grew even higher as the U.S. faced a mental health crisis. Through it all, providers started seeing more and more patients in crisis, all while trying to manage their own personal lives and health — a combination that can lead to burnout.
If healthcare providers are struggling with their mental health, they’re not going to be able to take care of others as well. Some of the most common symptoms of burnout are isolation and avoidance. Providers may start to withdraw from their teams, becoming less involved in the workplace and less enthusiastic about clocking in every day. They may also avoid seeking care, convinced they can deal with their mental health challenges all on their own — which can lead to difficulty with focusing, concentrating, and decision making.
Healthcare providers need to keep up with their own mental health to ensure they are making the best decisions for their patients.
Provider burnout affects both providers and their patients
Many providers fall into the trap of thinking they’re not as susceptible to behavioral health conditions as their patients are. After all, they’re trained mental health professionals. However, no one is immune to mental health conditions or challenges — even psychiatrists and behavioral therapists.
If you are in a leadership role within your organization, consider taking preventative measures to ensure your providers are getting the support and resources they need. Some warning signs someone may be struggling with burnout are:
- They are more irritable than normal
- They aren’t attending team meetings, and seem to be withdrawing themself
- They lose interest in activities or job tasks they used to enjoy
- They are making more mistakes on the job
- They seem to be more and more tired every day
A lot of provider burnout comes from being overworked, and some level of burnout is almost inevitable after the past year. However, it’s important to give your team the rest they need. Encourage your healthcare workers to prioritize both their physical and mental health and allow them to take time away from work when they need it.
One of the most important things you can do is have an open line of communication with your team and set realistic expectations for them. Being a healthcare professional is a challenging job, and your team should have a clear picture of what that looks like within your organization.
Resources are available to help
Fortunately, there are online resources readily available to help both providers and organizations dealing with burnout. One of the best sources is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Check out their comprehensive guide on dealing with stress and compassion fatigue and dive into what compassion fatigue looks like in providers.
Another resource available to your organization is telepsychiatry. Many organizations struggle with provider burnout because the few behavioral health care workers they have on staff are overworked. At Iris Telehealth, we understand the shortage of behavioral health care workers and want to work with your organization to bridge the gap. We recruit the best psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners from around the country and connect them with organizations in need.
Healthcare workers: let yourself rest
Mental Health America’s recent study on provider burnout gave us the startling statistic that 82% of healthcare workers feel more emotionally exhausted now than they did just a few months ago. Even more startling is over 40% of those participants said they didn’t feel like they had adequate emotional support. You should never feel ashamed to reach out for help, regardless of your profession. We’d like to leave you with a resource list in case you ever do feel the need to get help:
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s Resource Guide: Top NAMI HelpLine Resources | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
- National Health Services Mental Health Helpline: call 111
We understand that the healthcare industry is physically and emotionally taxing, and we’re so grateful to providers everywhere for all that they do. If your organization is feeling the weight of increased numbers of patients and burnt-out providers, contact us today. We’d love to talk to you about the difference telepsychiatry can make in your practice!