6 Strategies To Support Healthcare Professionals’ Mental Health

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Stephen Sokoler, founder & CEO of Journey.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen just how critically important our healthcare workers are to the well-being of our society. But it’s becoming clear that these dedicated employees are struggling with increasingly intense demands in ways that are negatively impacting their mental health. According to a 2020 Mental Health America survey, 93% of health workers felt they were being stretched too thin, while 82% reported feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. A 2021 report on physician burnout even found that 13% of these professionals had experienced thoughts of suicide.

These alarming statistics demonstrate that the long shifts, high-stakes clinical decision making and relentless patient care responsibilities have taken a damaging toll on healthcare workers. With stress, burnout and emotional exhaustion at an all-time high, it’s time to address mental health in the healthcare industry.

Let’s explore some of the unique challenges faced by healthcare professionals and consider actionable strategies for cultivating a culture that prioritizes the well-being of those who dedicate their lives to healing others.

Current Healthcare Workforce Stressors

In the complex and demanding world of healthcare, employees face many challenges that can make it difficult to prioritize their mental health. Healthcare professionals frequently work long, irregular hours, which can lead to physical and mental exhaustion. Then, throughout their shifts, they’re tasked with countless high-stress clinical decisions that can involve intricate ethical considerations. Additionally, because many healthcare workers—especially those in emergency or acute care units—are constantly exposed to traumatic events, their mental health is strained. This can make it increasingly difficult to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

In mental healthcare settings, professionals handle patients experiencing acute emotional distress and trauma. This can be emotionally taxing for practitioners, potentially leading to compassion fatigue, problems with mood and emotional burnout.

Beyond the demands of patient care, the bureaucratic aspects of healthcare are another challenge healthcare professionals face. Dealing with complex compliance standards and insurance claims can be frustrating, especially when a patient is denied coverage for a critical procedure. Many healthcare workers say these administrative tasks detract from their ability to deliver direct patient care at a time when widespread staffing shortages are increasing workloads across the industry.

Healthcare Workers Fail To Engage With Mental Health Support

Healthcare workers, who are often on the front lines of high-stress situations, face numerous obstacles when it comes to engaging with workplace mental health initiatives. Considering most hospitals and healthcare facilities operate using shift scheduling, this can make engagement an issue of availability. For example, it can be difficult to achieve consistent communication of supports across departments and among employees who typically work night and/or weekend shifts. Emotional exhaustion can also leave little energy for engaging in wellness programming.

Then, perhaps surprisingly, a stigma around mental health still exists among healthcare professionals. This, coupled with concerns about patient confidentiality, can leave many healthcare workers hesitant to seek out emotional support when they need it. This unfortunate scenario is exacerbated by the ingrained expectation to prioritize patient care over self-care.

6 Tips For Supporting Mental Health In The Healthcare Industry

When it comes to solving the problem of employee mental health in the healthcare sector, there are no quick fixes or easy answers. However, there are small, meaningful steps that forward-thinking healthcare leaders can take to improve the well-being of their workforce today.

1. Ensure leadership commitment. Encourage your clinical and administrative leadership teams to openly discuss the importance of mental health in the workplace.

2. Provide continuing education on mental well-being. Regular mental health programming can help workers recognize signs of mental health concerns in themselves and their colleagues. Consider establishing a wellness committee to support ongoing programming.

3. Promote work-life balance. Encourage a healthy work-life balance by promoting the use of PTO and discouraging excessive overtime. Where possible, designate quiet areas in hospitals or clinics for relaxation and decompression during shifts.

4. Challenge stigma through increased awareness. To minimize stigma, increase employees’ awareness of the connection between workplace stress and mental health. Discussions of available mental health supports should begin during employee onboarding.

5. Prioritize regular communication. Utilize internal communication platforms to share mental health tips. Encourage regular well-being check-ins between supervisors and employees.

6. Offer crisis support. Develop clear crisis intervention plans for your facility, and regularly reevaluate your employee assistance program to ensure it provides proactive support and confidential counseling for personal or work-related mental health issues.

Final Thoughts

Healthcare workers’ mental health is so much more than an individual concern. It has a direct impact on the quality of patient care they provide and the overall stability of our entire healthcare system. So how can we improve the well-being of this dedicated workforce?

It starts with putting programming in place that strengthens workplace mental health and fostering a culture of appreciation and support. By honoring the needs of healthcare workers, we can reduce turnover and improve patient outcomes. We can also demonstrate our profound gratitude for the lifesaving services these employees provide each and every day.


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