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There’s a spotlight on nurses’ poor mental health, but little action is actually being taken – MedCity News

There’s a spotlight on nurses’ poor mental health, but little action is actually being taken – MedCity News

The healthcare industry is certainly having a conversation about nurses’ mental health, but actual action to address wellbeing concerns among these burnt out workers is lagging, according to a report released Wednesday by nursing jobs platform Trusted Health.

For the report, Trusted Health surveyed more than 2,500 nurses in May. Nearly 40% of respondents were in their thirties, and about two-thirds were under the age of 40. They worked across different departments and specialties.

Using a scale of 1-10, respondents rated their current mental health at an average of 5.8, compared to an average of 7.8 prior to the pandemic. This represents a mental health decline of 26% — a slight improvement after Trusted Health’s previous surveys found a decrease of 29% in 2021 and 28% in 2020. Still, the finding means nurses’ mental health has not come close to returning to pre-pandemic levels.

The report found that 75% of nurses feel burnt out, and 64% have struggled with feelings of depression. These problems unfortunately often go unnoticed and/or unaddressed by nurses’ managers, according to Dani Bowie, Trusted Health’s vice president of clinical strategy and transformation. She said one reason for this is that nurse managers are often too overworked to have meaningful conversations about mental health with their staff.

“Nurse managers who are supporting the frontline are often more worried about filling open shifts, so they don’t really have time in their huddles to talk about mental health resources that may be of benefit,” Bowie said.

The report also revealed some lesser-discussed issues nurses are dealing with. For example, 64% of nurses said their physical health is declining in addition to their mental health. This happens because nursing is a highly physically demanding job, and nurses are working long hours to make up for staffing shortages. This also sometimes occurs because nurses are too burnt out to exercise or make healthy meals outside of work.

Additionally, nurses are experiencing negative emotions that are making them question if they even belong in the career. In fact, the report found that 66% of nurses are experiencing compassion fatigue toward patients, meaning they are so emotionally and physically exhausted that it becomes more difficult for them to empathize or feel compassion for the people they’re caring for. Additionally, nearly half of nurses said they have experienced a moral injury related to ethical dilemmas that come up during work, such as needing to ration patient care due to staffing shortages.

Most nurses enter the career because they want to help people and provide quality care, Bowie pointed out. She said having to skip out on tasks like ambulating a patient or brushing their teeth can make nurses feel as though they “weren’t able to do the holistic care that they were trained to do and desire to do.”

There also seems to be an awareness problem when it comes to the mental health programs providers are offering their nurses. Forty percent of nurses said they do not know what mental health benefits their current facility offers. 

For those who did know, access to a mental health hotline or crisis line (39%), education around mindfulness and other stress reduction techniques (29%) and one-to-one counseling or therapy (18%) were the most common resources their employers had made available. However, none of these resources were among the top three that respondents said they would find most beneficial: a wellness or fitness stipend (74%); access to a gym, yoga studio or group fitness classes (67%) and flexible scheduling (64%).

To effectively address nurses’ mental health struggles, providers must focus on benefits that make nursing a more sustainable career choice. Making scheduling more flexible is one of the most important ways providers can accomplish this, according to Bowie. 

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said their experience as a nurse would improve if they had more control over their schedule, and more than half said that the way scheduling is currently done lowers their job satisfaction. Nurses’ desire for flexible scheduling is only expected to grow stronger as they see their peers in other industries adopt new ways of working, such as flexible hours and remote work. 

Providers should offer nurses the benefits they are clamoring for sooner rather than later — more than 100,00 registered nurses left the workforce in 2021, the worst exodus the career had seen in more than four decades.

“Many nurses feel as though talk about their mental health is happening, action isn’t really moving forward,” Bowie said.

Photo: gpointstudio, Getty Images