Nurses Report Continued Mental Health Issues for Third Year in a RowJuly 26, 2022
Nurses continue to report ongoing mental health issues, according to Trusted Health’s third annual report, a trend that has been developing since 2020.
Among over 2,500 nurses who responded to an emailed online survey in May, one in 10 reported experiencing suicidal thoughts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the majority reporting feelings of burnout (75%), compassion fatigue (66%), depression (64%), declines in their physical health (64%), and extreme feelings of trauma, extreme stress, and/or PTSD (50%).
Moreover, 50% said they have been “verbally attacked, intimidated or assaulted” by a patient or patient’s family member, and 22% reported having been “physically attacked, intimidated or assaulted” by a patient or patient’s family member.
What’s most worrisome is that they’re keeping silent about these thoughts and problems, said Dani Bowie, DNP, RN, vice president of clinical strategy & transformation at Trusted Health.
Nearly 60% of respondents said that they were either “very unlikely” or “somewhat unlikely” to share their suicidal thoughts or mental health issues with a manager or another colleague at their facility.
When asked why they wouldn’t share their problems, 72% said they were concerned about confidentiality, 69% reported concerns about job security, 64% anticipated that their employers wouldn’t address the issue, and 44% feared it would impact their nursing license.
Importantly, the report also noted that “nurse mental health has not rebounded to anywhere near its pre-COVID levels, even as we enter a new and less destructive phase of the pandemic.”
On a scale of 1-10, nurses ranked their current mental health and well-being at 5.8 on average, versus an average of 7.8 before the pandemic — a 26% drop. However, this did indicate a “very modest improvement” over results from 2020 and 2021, which showed a 28% and 29% decline, respectively.
Bowie acknowledged that improving the mental heath and well-being of frontline workers wasn’t a priority before the pandemic. “So, as the pandemic hit, and [nurses] were taking care of patients, they saw increased mortality … and then, they would go home and oftentimes isolate themselves because of fear of exposure to their family and loved ones.”
All of this compounded a “pre-existing condition … and health systems weren’t ready to handle such a drastic crisis,” she added.
Commitment to Nursing
Approximately 95% of the surveyed nurses said the healthcare industry has not made mental health a priority. Overall, 69% ranked themselves as either “somewhat dissatisfied,” “dissatisfied,” or “very dissatisfied” with the level of mental health support that their facility provides.
The problem, said Bowie, is that “they just feel that nothing’s being done to really address the issue … it’s like, ‘why do I need to share this if the health system or my employer isn’t going to do anything to change, even though I’m talking about it?'”
Over 60% of respondents said they are less committed to nursing than they were prior to the pandemic — a 39% increase from the 2021 survey.
Asked about their future career plans, 34% said they are “actively looking” for a job away from the bedside or outside of the nursing profession, and another 21% said they plan to in the next year. Three percent of respondents said they plan to retire from the workforce, and 39% said they are not looking for a job away from the bedside or profession but they may “at some point.”
A Call to Action
“Our concern is early retirement. Our concern is bringing in workforce that doesn’t sustain. I think it’s key, then, that we continue to support our frontline nurses, so we have a healthy pipeline, and we have a healthy workforce that can care for an aging population that we’re seeing on the horizon,” Bowie noted.
To that end, the survey is a call to action to health systems, urging them to evaluate the programs they have in place and to determine how best to use resources and time, so that more frontline nurses don’t leave the profession.
The survey specifically asked nurses what benefits they would like to be offered and what benefits their employers currently provide. Respondents indicated that they would welcome interventions such as one-to-one counseling, peer support programs, mindfulness meditation, and access to a mental health or crisis line.
A little over half of respondents said one-to-one counseling or therapy would be “most beneficial,” but only 18% said such benefits are currently offered. Nearly a quarter said they would benefit from peer support programs, but only 13% said their employers currently offered these programs.
Nurses are also looking for their employers to support their physical health needs, Bowie said. Three-quarters of respondents said they would benefit from a wellness stipend, and 67% said they would benefit from access to a gym, yoga studio, or fitness classes.
“Nurses are also looking for flexible scheduling or staffing options. That’s another way to provide opportunity and control around their work environment,” Bowie noted.
When it comes to nurse retention, “it’s not just about compensation,” she added.
“There’s elements of pay that are important, but it’s also about the environment in which you work and being able to have that relationship with your manager … [and] with your team members, and mak[ing] sure that you’re staffed appropriately to do your job. [Those] are going to be just as important and just as powerful in supporting that nurse or keeping them in the work environment,” she said.
Of the more than 2,500 nurses who responded to the survey, 88% were women, 38% were ages 30 to 39, and 25% were ages 20 to 29.
Among the various hospital departments, 21% of respondents reported working in acute care, 21% worked in critical care, and 14% worked in the emergency department.