In the last few years, the poor state of mental wellbeing among healthcare professionals has gained significant attention — both in the medical world and on a national level. This issue came into the spotlight during the pandemic, as the general population became more conscious of the difficulties inherent in a profession where daily encounters with life-and-death situations are commonplace.
A recent survey on nurses’ mental health offers some reasons for cautious optimism. The survey — which was released this summer by nursing jobs platform Trusted Health — showed that nurses’ mental health has continued to improve since its bleakest days during the peak of the pandemic. However, most nurses said they remain unhappy with their employer’s efforts to prioritize their mental wellbeing.
For this iteration of its annual survey, Trusted Health collected responses from more than 1,900 nurses. One of the questions asked nurses to rate the state of their mental health and wellbeing on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very negative and 10 being very positive. The average rating in 2023 was 6.6, compared to 5.4 in 2020.
Some negative outcomes associated with poor nurse mental health declined this year as well. For example, there was a 28% drop in the occurrence of moral injury, which refers to feelings related to ethical dilemmas like rationing patient care. There was also a 25% decline in suicidal thinking among nurses.
“Overall, we’re seeing things trend in the right direction, but we want to see more improvement. Hopefully over the next couple years, this will continue to increase,” said Dani Bowie, Trusted Health’s chief nursing officer, in a recent interview.
She pointed out that levels of burnout and depression among nurses still remain a cause for concern. More than 60% of nurses said they are still struggling with high levels of burnout, and 59% of nurses reported battles with depression.
Bowie also pointed out that for the last four years, 95% of nurses have said that they didn’t feel their employer or the healthcare industry at large was treating their mental health as a priority — or that it was a priority but the measures in place to support it were insufficient.
The survey revealed that staffing shortages are the number one problem negatively impacting nurses’ mental health. Solving this issue will undoubtedly require a multifaceted approach, but an important part of that approach will be implementing technology that can help nurse managers better handle their unit’s staffing levels, Bowie said.
“I was a nurse manager, and I managed about 90 direct reports — I spent a lot of time on staffing and scheduling. Managers are trying to do this work, but oftentimes there’s limited tools and technology support to do it. Actually, part of my doctoral thesis was about predictive scheduling because I just felt like managers were really struggling to get this done well. They’re not set up for success,” she explained.
If nurse managers can be freed from some of this administrative burden, they would have more time to check in with their team about their mental wellbeing, Bowie added. The survey found that 70% of all nurses have never had their direct manager ask them about their mental health.
While unfortunate, this finding isn’t very surprising, Bowie said. Nurse managers are overworked and can manage up to 100 direct reports — they don’t have a lot of extra time for non-transactional engagement or leadership, she explained.
“They either don’t have the time or they’re not being trained to ask nurses about their mental health. A big part of that is because of the workload associated with a high headcount, as well as the complexity of staffing and scheduling. Managers spend so much time on transactional tasks and the managing of the unit, so they’re not moving beyond into the transformational space of building a workforce to support nurses holistically and offer them mental wellbeing programs,” Bowie declared.
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