CDC Study Highlights Health Care Workers' Mental Health Crisis: 'They Must Be Supported'

A new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also notes that reports of being harassed at work have doubled for those in the field in recent years

<p>Kong Ding Chek / Getty </p> Stock image of healthcare worker sitting down on the floor

Kong Ding Chek / Getty

Stock image of healthcare worker sitting down on the floor

Health care workers are facing a mental health crisis, a new study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes.

On Tuesday, the public health agency published a study that highlighted the quality of mental health, the quality of work life and harassment faced by those in the field — using survey data collected between 2018 and 2022 to determine that nearly half of health care workers reported feeling burned out last year.

These self-reported numbers marked an increase from four years prior, when less than a third of workers reported feeling burned out. The data also showed "greater declines on a range of mental health outcomes than other workers" in that timeframe, per a release.

“We depend on our nation’s health workers and they must be supported," CDC Chief Medical Officer Debra Houry said. "Employers can act now by modifying working conditions associated with burnout and poor mental health outcomes in health settings."

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<p>Kiwis / Getty Images</p> Stock image of a healthcare worker taking a break

Kiwis / Getty Images

Stock image of a healthcare worker taking a break

The CDC study, which also noted that reports of harassment doubled for health care workers in said timeframe, used data from the General Social Survey Quality of Worklife Module to compare self-reported mental health symptoms between 2018 and 2022.

The study also shares that the COVID-19 pandemic "may have further impaired health worker mental health and increased health workers’ intent to leave their jobs," the release reports.

In 2018, 31.9% of health care workers reported feeling burned out often or very often, while in 2022, that percentage jumped to 45.6%, the study revealed.

Related: Anxiety Screening for All Adults Under 65 Now Recommended at Checkups

Reports of being harassed could also be linked to poor mental health, per the study, with 85% of workers who reported feeling harassed also reporting anxiety, 60% also reporting depression, and 81% reporting feeling burned out. This is in comparison to the 53% (anxiety), 31% (depression), and 42% (burnout), who did not report being harassed.

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Overall, the percentage of workers who reported having experienced harassment jumped from 6% to 13% during the study's timeframe, according to the CDC. This included those who reported experiencing bullying, verbal abuse and violent threats from coworkers or patients. Those who felt supported by their management reported feeling less burnout, per the agency.

“In this study, we saw that when working conditions are positive, and where health workers are supported and have the potential to thrive, poor mental health outcomes were less likely," L. Casey Chosewood, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Office for Total Worker Health, said in the CDC's release.

"Employers can make a critical difference here by taking preventive actions and improving difficult working conditions that are linked with anxiety, depression, and burnout.”

Related: Record 1 in 6 U.S. Adults Has Depression, Says Report

Houry said in a release that the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will launch a national Impact Wellbeing campaign, which will "provide health employers with resources to improve worker mental health."

“CDC’s efforts to address health worker mental health come at the right time, as we see how health workers have self-reported a unique increase in poor mental health, especially after a global pandemic,” Chosewood said.

The CDC also recommended employers allow workers to take part in decision-making, build trust, providing assistance and "enough time to complete work," and prevent and "pay attention to harassment reports" to make a positive impact in their work lives.

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