By Joy Avery, MSN, RN and Donna Pritchard, DNP, MSN, FNP-BC
This week is National Nurses Week, and this month is Mental Health Awareness Month, so today we’re shining a light on mental health issues affecting nurses today.
Even before the pandemic, burnout amongst healthcare workers and staff was pervasive. Across the nation, nurses and clinicians have been challenged by even higher levels of stress caused by systemic changes to care delivery and exacerbated by COVID-19. The situation has deteriorated further, with increasing numbers of staff reporting symptoms of exhaustion, depression, sleep disorders and PTSD.
Unfortunately, both mental health disorders and burnout are projected to increase in the wake of the pandemic. To date, there have been over 6 million deaths worldwide from COVID-19, and the spread is nowhere near contained. Healthcare workers, particularly those in emergency care settings, will continue to be exposed to high-stress environments and have to manage critical medical situations, care for severely traumatized people, experience the psychological impact of witnessing death and trauma, all while working long shift hours.
These issues are compounding healthcare labor shortages. Ninety percent of nurses are thinking about leaving their hospital for another job because of better work/life balance. Quality of patient care is also under threat. Nurses and clinicians who are impaired because of mental illness and/or substance abuse can experience a loss of cognitive or motor skill, impacting their ability to provide safe medical care.
Healthcare leaders and decision makers should work toward reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues and foster a culture of support and empathy. Normalizing discussions about mental health can help reduce some of this stigma. It is crucial to remember that the wellness of each individual staff member affects the overall functioning of the health care system. Their professional well-being, depression, anxiety and burnout are all determining factors that influence the care provided to patients.