Health care workers face disproportionate mental health challenges compared to those in other careers. According to a survey done in 2020, 93% of health workers report feeling stressed out, while another 82% reported feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. Another 45% said they weren’t getting enough emotional support.
The connection between health care workers and mental health is strained and needs to be taken seriously before it gets out of hand. This is especially true because another study found that 22% of health care workers reported experiencing moderate symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD since the COVID-19 pandemic.
6 Mental Health Challenges Faced by Mental Health Workers
To fix a problem, it’s essential to understand it first. So, today, we’ll share six mental health challenges mental health workers face. We’ll also share how you or your loved one can address these mental health challenges and when to seek professional help.
1. High-Stress Environment
Working in health care regularly puts people in a high-stress environment. For some mental health workers, the stress may result from life-or-death situations, such as when they work suicide watch at a psychiatric hospital and have a patient attempt self-harm during their shift. For others, high stress can be caused by routinely long shifts that wear a person down, paired with the emotional burden of constantly caring for others.
2. Emotional Exhaustion
Mental health workers are overloaded with work. This is especially true in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more than 60% of frontline health care workers say the pandemic has negatively affected their health. You may think of hospital doctors and nurses when you think of frontline health care workers, but the truth is that mental health workers are now bearing much of the burden. More than 40% of American adults have recently reported high levels of psychological stress in the last 3 years, which is significantly higher than in years past.
3. Job-Related Burnout
Job-related burnout can happen to anyone, but the long hours and high stress of being a mental health care worker mean they suffer burnout disproportionately. A recent study showed that more than half of American health workers reported burnout symptoms.
These symptoms can include:
- Excessive stress
- Mood changes
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Poor immune function
- Recurring headaches
- Unexpected weight loss or gain
4. Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue occurs when psychologists and other mental health workers take on the suffering of their patients. This can cause secondhand emotional and mental exhaustion, as well as the symptoms of mental disorders like depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Compassion fatigue can also be related to vicarious trauma, which happens when someone has been regularly and routinely exposed to other people’s traumatic experiences. Experiencing vicarious trauma can significantly impact a person’s view of the world, causing them to have a more negative outlook on life. It can also disturb their sense of safety and security, increasing anxiety.
5. Poor Work-Life Balance
Most mental health workers participate in shift work, meaning they work different shifts instead of a traditional 8-hour workday. This can cause sleep disturbances and general life disruption. Many health care workers’ shifts are 12 hours long. The two combine to form a poor work-life balance that can significantly decrease a person’s overall quality of life.
6. Inadequate Self-Care and Support
Feeling supported and caring for yourself is crucial in maintaining excellent physical and mental health. Unfortunately, health care workers often cite not feeling like they have a support group. They also tend to skip self-care in favor of sleep when they can get it or are simply too busy with their shift work to do anything they enjoy. This can lead to significant mental and health problems, some of which are challenging to overcome once they arise. For example, depression and anxiety can form with inadequate self-care and support, as can heart disease and autoimmune deficiencies.
Addressing These Mental Health Challenges
For those working on the frontline, mental health can be a struggle. Here are a few simple tips for addressing the unique mental health challenges of being a health care worker:
- Learn to say “no” to extra shifts if you don’t have the mental or physical capacity for them.
- Take your vacation days as a way to reset and recharge.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Educate yourself (and your workforce) on mental health.
- Create a support group for yourself by reaching out to coworkers, friends and family.
- Avoid alcohol and illicit substances, which can only make the problem worse.
- Make restful sleep a priority, and aim for at least 8 hours a night.
- Practice gratitude and positivity.
- Get regular exercise.
- Set firm boundaries for yourself and stick with them.
- Seek professional help if you need it.
Sometimes, using the tips above isn’t enough. If you or a loved one is a health care worker, seek professional help if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Ongoing anxiety or depression
- Moderate or severe mood changes
- Challenges falling or staying asleep
- Unexpected weight loss or gain
- Nightmares or flashbacks related to a traumatic event
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
If you or a loved one has Thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988 to be connected with a crisis counselor. You can also call 911 to be connected to first responders in your area who can help.
Health Care Workers and Mental Health: Getting the Help Needed
The mental health of therapists, psychiatric nurses and other mental health care workers is a serious issue that needs to be faced. A combination of unique challenges and lack of support can lead to a decline in a health care worker’s mental health. To take care of their patients, health care workers need to take care of themselves first.
If you or a loved one is a health care worker struggling with their mental health, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Our team of compassionate counselors is ready to take your call around the clock. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve better mental health.