May 19, 2022

This Month, NIOSH Emphasizes Health Workers' Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and NIOSH is supporting efforts to address mental health issues among health workers. In a NIOSH Newsroom feature published this month, the agency stresses that health workers, including nurses, physicians, home health aides, medical assistants, and others working in patient care—many in critical support roles—are at risk for issues associated with stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicidal behavior.

Even before the pandemic, health workers suffered high rates of poor mental health outcomes, according to NIOSH. Health workers often experience challenging work conditions, such as long work hours, rotating and irregular shifts, physically and emotionally intensive labor, exposure to human suffering and death, and increased risk of disease and violence. Staffing and personal protective equipment shortages, combined with fatigue, loss, and grief have only added to these burdens, the agency says. NIOSH cites a 2020 survey that found 93 percent of health workers reported being “stretched too thin” and 82 percent reported emotional and physical exhaustion. In the same survey, 45 percent of nurses reported “not getting enough emotional support.” Additional studies conducted during the pandemic, which are referenced in NIOSH’s feature, found that 69 percent of physicians reported experiencing depression and that nurses, frontline health workers, and younger health workers reported more severe psychological symptoms than other health workers. According to NIOSH, “these challenges risk a serious shortage in available health workers.”

NIOSH’s feature highlights the Health Worker Mental Health Initiative, the agency’s program for addressing issues that affect health workers’ mental health. The initiative’s goal is to raise awareness in this area, focusing especially on the roles of work conditions and employers regarding mental health. NIOSH’s initiative also seeks to identify and improve mental health data, screening tools, training, resources, and policies; reduce stigma; identify workplace and community support systems; and reduce barriers to addressing mental healthcare. The agency’s feature also links to additional resources to help readers learn about and address mental health issues among health workers and in general.

Related: Read “Mental Health in the Workplace: Tips for Supporting Workers’ Mental Well-Being” in The Synergist.