We Need to Prioritize Mental Health for Healthcare Workers

Healthcare workers were already under immense strain prior to the pandemic. A report by the National Academy of Medicine in October 2019 found that between 35 and 54 percent of nurses and doctors experience burnout. Among medical students and residents, the percentage is as high as 60 percent.

Burnout can lead to symptoms of depressionsubstance abuse, and suicide. In the United States, approximately one doctor was dying of suicide every day. According to a 2018 literature review of physician suicide, the suicide rate among physicians is 28 to 40 per 100,000, more than double that in the general population.

An analysis by Ohio State University College of Nursing and The American Journal of Critical Care found that a majority of critical-care nurses scored themselves low on physical and mental health status even before the pandemic began. Survey results collected from August 2018 to August 2019 found 61% of more than 700 critical care nurses rated their physical health a score of five or lower out of a possible 10, while 51% reported their mental health with a score of five or lower.

Compounding this crisis is the fact that many healthcare workers are discouraged from seeking mental healthcare for fear of risking their medical licensing or malpractice insurance. In one survey, around 1 in 15 surgeons cited recent suicidal thoughts, but more than 60 percent were deterred from seeking out mental health care because of concerns that it might affect their license.

Physicians face intense levels of scrutiny when disclosing any form of mental health treatment to state licensing boards. This goes against the recommendation of the American Medical Association. Early treatment of mental health issues is so critical, licensure applications should be amended to remove broad questions regarding mental health history and focus on a clinician’s ability to function.

Read the full article on Psychology Today
Orginally published on Psychology Today on June 25, 2021  
© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.