Life as a healthcare professional can be stressful. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals experience unexpected challenges daily. Challenges that are not only physically but also emotionally and mentally demanding. Despite the mental health issues among healthcare professionals, they’re expected to be resilient and persevere.
As a matter of fact, several healthcare professionals preen themselves on their ability to sustain high-stress situations and long working days. This leaves little to no time for “me time” or “self-care” that’s much needed to protect their health and wellness. Most often, they’re trying to pour from an empty cup.
All this, coupled with the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s affected the world globally, has set a relentless gloom around healthcare professionals.
Healthcare professionals are there for their patients at their every beck and call, literally. They are also extremely resilient. While it’s great, this exposes them to more work-related stressors than many other professional groups and are therefore vulnerable to mental health issues.
For starters, there’s issues with the lack of management support, inadequate facilities, lack of administrative support, long and odd working hours, inability to attend to their personal lives, high levels of responsibility, growing intensity and complexity of the job, and staff shortages.
Another primary issue they face is the lack of personal control over work, which results in less flexibility and the job becomes more stressful.
While factors like a high-pressure environment and long working hours are prevalent stressors, that’s not all. Anticipatory grief, compassion fatigue, anxiety about the safety of self and family, social stigma, and sleeping and eating disorders add to the mental challenges across the sector.
From the patient perspective, there’s high patient demand and aggression, and abuse from patients. All the while, healthcare professionals lay awake worried if they have administered the right care for their patients or what’s happening to them. All because they indeed want the best for them.
In fact, all this is the perfect recipe for stress - healthcare professionals consider themselves ‘superhuman’ who can cure everything or have a solution to everything. Perfectionism leads you on the road to a quick burnout.
The contributors of stress, like long shifts, heavy workload, a high pace, moral conflicts, lack of social support, and lack of physical or psychological safety, result in psychological distress. Working in a stressful or challenging environment for long periods with little recovery time is a risk factor for sleeping disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, burnout, and other illnesses.
According to the Journal of Psychiatry, there’s a study that reveals almost 80% face the risk of burnout during the early stages of their career. And nearly 30% of Indian doctors undergo depression. This was before the pandemic.
In the past year and a half, with prolonged demand to respond to the pandemic, many frontline workers feel like they've hit a wall regarding mental health. And the levels of stress, PTSD, and depression have risen.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example to specifically elucidate how a universal experience can negatively influence and damage the mental health of healthcare workers or professionals. To evaluate mental health conditions among healthcare workers, the US CDC conducted a nonprobability-based online survey in 2021.
About one in three each reported symptoms of PTSD (36.8%), anxiety (30.3%), suicidal thoughts (~10%), and depression (32%). Of this, since March 2020, nearly 59% worked over 41 hours in a typical work week. Those who were able to take an off were at lower risks of mental issues compared to those who didn’t take time off. Further, those below 29 years (47.4%), have the highest prevalence of mental health symptoms.
When you think about it, the pandemic heroes who saved countless lives are facing such issues and considering ending their lives! The situation and statistics are alarming!
Time and again, healthcare professionals place the well-being of others before themselves. On the surface, this dedication toward patients is admirable. However, in the long run, it impedes or interrupts professionals from seeking the help they need for their own health and wellbeing.
The difference between a good healthcare professional and a great one is rarely skill. It boils down to their capability to display empathy, act instinctively, and think critically shift after shift. When mental health is affected, it can tremendously stir these traits, directly hindering their ability to provide high-quality care.
Treating healthcare professionals comes with challenges as there are barriers that inhibit the process of accepting or seeking help, which comprises of:
Speaking of personal attributes, perfectionism, over-commitment, or conscientiousness unquestionably ensures patients are well cared for, yet leads to the inability to replenish inner resources, as a result, increases the risks of mental health issues.
Conversely, work-related stress can not only negatively impact a healthcare provider’s overall quality of life but also efficiency, quality of care delivery, and professionalism.
When mental health is poor, professionals feel less effective as they’re mentally exhausted. This may even cause a sense of depersonalization from their duties, which directly impacts their capacity to deliver high-quality and safe care.
Hence, it’s crucial to pinpoint and assuage these work-related risk factors to protect the mental health and well-being of healthcare workers. Addressing all aspects of mental health and wellness can help improve the quality of their well-being and thereby professional performance.
There is also some research out there that suggests that when healthcare professionals engage in the treatment, recover at a faster pace as compared to those without a healthcare background.
While the growing awareness of mental issues, both for a healthcare professional and generally is on the rise, there continues to be a stigma around it. But with the rise in healthcare demand, now more than ever, it’s essential to be mindful of the psychological stress and begin addressing it.
Whether healthcare professionals or not, employee health and wellbeing are of paramount importance, both from the point of view of the workforce and the organization.
Since most people spend most of their adult life at work, it’s no surprise that they want to be happy. Today, wellness and well-being are not an option, afterthought, or a nice perk. It’s a must-have! It costs to not look after employees. Businesses in the UK spend over $45 billion per year on poor mental health alone.
Beyond the costs involved, at a surface level, it also affects job performance, the number of sick days, burnout, absenteeism, stress, depression, fatigue, etc. Let’s not forget to add financial setbacks.
These are not just mere words. There’s proof of the pudding lies in the Human Relations Theory. This theory explains the link between high employee morale and greater employee well-being, which results in enhanced productivity.
The recipe for success is simple: for a thriving business, you need thriving employees.
You can banish the thought that promoting health and wellness results in ‘soft’ results. In today’s workplace, it ensures your employees really want to and like to be at work. In the long run, this demonstrates a strong, multi-faceted effect on the overall performance of your business. There are spikes in productivity, production, and money!
You can find some measurable results you may relate to in this study on the financial return from wellbeing programs. It illustrates that for every dollar you spend on health benefits, including wellness, medical costs decrease by roughly $3.27 and for absenteeism, it’s $2.73. As an employer, if you adopt wellness programs, the higher the chances of witnessing substantial positive returns within a few years.
Here are some more stats by Gallup to throw light on a few more benefits of workplace wellness.
In Hierarchy of Needs created in 1943 by Abraham Maslow, you can conclude that when basic needs are met, it’s easier to fulfill the more rewarding tip of the triangle. Translating this to workplace wellness is that when your foundation - healthy mind and body, is strong, employees are capable of accomplishing self-esteem and positive self-actualization.
These facets are essential for heightened well-being. Organizations that back each stage of the triangle can observe a working environment that’s happier, hence higher ROI.
Remember that well-being and wellness not only include mental well-being but look beyond - physical, social, financial, emotional, community, career, and more. Refer to the Seven Pillars of Holistic Employee Well-being.
This holistic approach provides practical and simple tools to help live a life that’s healthier, happier, more fulfilling by prioritizing self-care. They’re easy enough to put into action nearly instantly and can help with your overall happiness, health, and even boost energy levels.
It’s time to realize that healthcare professionals need help now, during this challenging time, and in the future.
The year itself turned out to be one of the biggest teachers of all time. There’s been a drastic change in work vocabulary and life philosophy. One of the most significant topics for the past 1.5 years is holistic workplace wellness.
Leaders wholeheartedly recognize that good employee health is just good business sense. Rather than thriving, a business needs to shift to surviving mode. One of the best ways to do so is making employee well-being a central aspect.
Healthcare professionals and employees have their perspectives in place and relate to a more purposeful environment that takes into consideration their wants and needs.
With that in mind, the lifesaving role of frontline workers and healthcare professionals is truly admirable. Along with thanking these heroes, it’s also the right time to acknowledge and address the challenges they face, both off and on duty.
No more incentives or praise can compensate for the trauma they’ve faced and continue to go through. To sustain efficient productivity, health and well-being need to be taken seriously.
The future of work needs to incorporate the treatment of employees and their well-being!
It’s time to push for better mental health services for those who care for your health and your loved ones.