Even as many of the intense pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic receded, high stress levels among U.S. health workers did not, recent research finds. 

Health workers in the United States have been experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis in recent years, with nearly half of them reporting they were burned out in 2022, according to a November study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Burnout among U.S. health workers — characterized by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that saps energy and hinders workplace performance and motivation — rose 44% from 2018 to 2022, a survey found.Woman stands outside leaning against wall with head down.

While there were fewer COVID-19 deaths in 2022 compared to the first two years of the pandemic, which began in March 2020, harsh working conditions continued. Health workers contended with spikes in patients, shortages of personal protective equipment and longer working hours. 

Harassment of workers also worsened, with reports doubling in 2022 compared to the 2018. Bullying and verbal abuse from patients and coworkers increased anxiety and depression, the study said.

The pressures may lead to more people leaving the already-taxed workforce: About 44% of health workers said in 2022 that they were planning to look for a new job, compared to 33% in 2018.

Health professionals who worked in supportive workplaces reported fewer mental health strains. Workers who felt they could participate in workplace decisions, trust their management and had supervisors looking out for their mental health reported less burnout.

Study researchers suggested training managers on understanding mental health issues and burnout and providing them with tools to support their staff. Supervisors can support employees by including them in decisions and delegating tasks in a way that decreases workload and long working hours. Organizations should also strengthen policies on harassment to ensure they are looking out for their workers, researchers said.

Resources that can support work to counter burnout include an online burnout prevention training for supervisors of public health workers from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the Impact Wellbeing campaign for hospital leaders. A 2022 surgeon general advisory also provides tips.


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