Burnout in health care workers ‘has reached crisis levels’

October 24, 2023

2 min read

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Key takeaways:

  • Reports of harassment doubled in 2022 and were linked to anxiety, depression and burnout.
  • Trust in management and help from supervisors were factors that decreased odds of burnout in health workers.

Health care workers face an escalating mental health crisis that is made worse by increased harassment, according to results from a new CDC Vital Signs report.

“The COVID-19 pandemic only intensified many health care workers’ long-standing challenges and contributed to new and worsening concerns, including compassion fatigue, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders and suicidal thoughts,” Debra Houry, MD, MPH, the CDC’s chief medical officer, said in a press conference.

Burnout among health care workers has “reached crisis levels,” according to Debra Houry, MD, MPH, the CDC’s chief medical officer. Image: CDC

As a result, “burnout among these workers has reached crisis levels,” Houry said.

The report adds to the literature on the rapidly declining state of mental health in health care workers (HCWs). Previous studies have found HCWs are at an increased risk for suicide, with over 50% of workers knowing someone who considered, attempted or died by suicide.

In their analysis, Jeannie A. S. Nigam, MS, a research psychologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), and colleagues compared mental health symptoms of 1,443 workers from 2018 to those of 1,952 workers from 2022.

The 2018 and 2022 samples included 226 and 325 HCWs, respectively.

The researchers found that over the study period, there were increases among HCWs in the reported number of days of poor mental health within the past 30 days (3.3 to 4.5 days) and in the percentage of those who reported feeling burnout very often (11.6% to 19%).

Overall, 45.6% of HCWs reported feeling burnout often or very often in 2022.

Harassment at work also rose from 6.4% to 13.4% from 2018 to 2022, and was linked to increased odds of:

  • anxiety (OR = 5.01; 95% CI, 2.45-10.26);
  • depression (OR = 3.38; 95% CI, 1.53-7.47); and
  • burnout (OR = 5.83; 95% CI, 1.56-13.27).

However, HCWs experienced decreased odds of burnout if they:

  • trusted management (OR = 0.4; 95% CI, 0.19-0.86);
  • had supervisor help (OR = 0.26; 95% CI, 0.11-0.62);
  • had enough time to complete work (OR = 0.33; 95% CI, 0.16-0.66); or
  • felt that their workplace supported productivity (OR = 0.38; 95% CI, 0.18-0.8) vs. those who did not.

Houry mentioned several efforts by the CDC and NIOSH to address the growing mental health crisis in health care, including the Health Worker Mental Health Initiative.

“One goal of the initiative is to raise awareness of health workers’ mental health issues, particularly focusing on the role work conditions play and what employers can do,” she said.

Houry explained that by improving work conditions, “we can have a positive impact on health worker well-being and mental health and retain a critical asset to the nation’s health system and public health.”

Anyone in crisis can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by texting or calling 988 or reaching out online at 988lifeline.org.



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