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The causes of the mental health crisis affecting healthcare workers 

Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently raised concerns about a growing mental health crisis among healthcare professionals. 

Even before the pandemic, healthcare jobs were known for their demanding nature, which can include long working hours, unpredictable schedules, exposure to infectious diseases, and often emotionally demanding interactions with patients and their families. Research has also shown that healthcare workers face a higher risk of suicide compared with other professions. 

The challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these workplace issues. In the last few years, there’s been an overwhelming increase in patients, which has meant longer working hours and shortages of many essential supplies. 

In the latest CDC research, data that was collected through a nationwide survey spanning from 2018 to 2022 found that nearly half of healthcare workers reported experiencing burnout, a notable increase from the less than one-third reported four years earlier. 

Additionally, the number of healthcare workers reporting harassment in the workplace more than doubled during this period.

The study found that healthcare workers reported an increase in the number of days they experienced poor mental health between 2018 and 2022. 

In the survey, 44% of healthcare workers said they were considering or actively looking for new employment, up from 33% in 2018. The number of other essential workers considering changing jobs decreased during the same period.

Meanwhile, the percentage of healthcare workers encountering harassment, which includes violent threats, bullying, and verbal abuse from patients and colleagues, increased from 6% to 13% during the study period. Of the healthcare workers who experienced harassment, 85% said they also experienced anxiety. 

These findings follow the largest healthcare worker strike in US history, which saw 75,000 unionized Kaiser Permanente employees staging a walkout in five states and the District of Columbia, which was prompted by chronic staffing shortages. 

According to Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC’s chief medical officer, “Kaiser Permanente labor deal shows why short, disruptive strikes are becoming more common. 

While usually, health workers care diligently for others in their time of need, it is now our nation’s health workers who are suffering, and we must act. Caring for people who are sick can also be intensely stressful and emotional. 

Although you do everything you can to save a life, I still remember some of the tough patient cases I had, where I gave the bad news about an advanced cancer diagnosis to a working spouse or the time I was unable to resuscitate the young toddler after a car crash. 

After a shift like this, I would have to put on a good front and take care of my own family. And in doing this, I didn’t always pay enough attention to my own wellness needs.”

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