Doctors, nurses and others who care for people with severe and chronic conditions are at particular risk for burnout and mental health issues. While it is difficult to compare the United States and the world, other organizations and health care experts around the world have found similar disturbing effects and recommendations.
In a 2014 study of more than 10,000 nurses in the U.S., EU and Brazil, burnout was “remarkably common” in nurses and predicted by physicians to be “a serious public health problem.” It occurred predominantly among nurses with more senior jobs and was most prevalent in practices with more patients. It also occurred largely among women who were mostly depressed and under-educated. Of those surveyed, 7 percent were clinically depressed, 25 percent had a prescription for antidepressants and 19 percent reported problems with substance abuse. According to the study, depression was more common among women than men.
In this year’s Middletown Journal-Glean, researcher Teresa N. O’Keefe and Middletown Hospital Medical Center psychiatrist Katherine Hane argue that burnout in nurses can be considered a “health crisis” requiring medical professionals to treat their symptoms “at a comprehensive or more complex” level than in the past.
They say those treating nurses need to recognize that it is also the nurses and their caregivers — the patients — who could be risking health, even death, as they struggle to properly care for those with long-term illnesses. This may be due to unmet clinical needs that may relate to mental health issues, both physical and mental, as well as health issues related to depression and anxiety.
In addition, “normal and beneficial behaviors,” such as mental and physical activity, may be reduced due to work stress and depression. “In light of these effects,” the researchers say, “leaders and employers should consider ways to address burnout and depression in a systematic way, including enhancing personnel development and integrating mental health resources into day-to-day care.”
The Howard League, a health advocacy organization in Baltimore, has produced a comprehensive study of burnout in D.C. medical specialists.
Almost three-quarters of the doctors in the sample were either med students or residents. Of these, 77 percent had been working full-time within the previous five years; half had been working on 20 or more full-time shifts and nearly one-third of these saw patients on 40 or more days in a year. About one-third suffered from depression, while a quarter said they had physical health problems, such as low energy or poor sleep.
Burnout was strongly associated with poor mental health — such as mental and physical illness and decreased work performance — in a sample of these physicians, according to the study. An alarming number also reported abuse by their patients. In addition, many doctors who said they had been treated by psychiatrists at least once in the last five years experienced burnout.