New Report Highlights Mental Health Problems and Burnout Among Nurses and Midwives

According to findings from a new report from The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), and funded by the RCN Foundation, nurses and midwives are at greater risk of stress, burnout and mental health problems than those in most other jobs. It highlights that workplace factors such as high workload, bullying, lack of support and emotional demands are the main sources of this poor wellbeing.

The report, “The Mental Health and Wellbeing of Nurses and Midwives in the United Kingdom” also finds that working conditions not only threaten the health of nurses and midwives, but also impact on their ability to deliver high quality care to patients.

The report, authored by Professor Gail Kinman and Dr Kevin Teoh from Birkbeck University of London and Professor Anne Harriss, President of the SOM, and an experienced nurse, reviewed and analysed the research evidence on the mental health of nurses and midwives in the UK.

Dr Teoh said: “Our report highlights the excessive demands experienced by nurses and midwives in the UK and how this affects their mental health. It also identifies areas where our knowledge is very limited, such as the experiences of ethnic minority nurses and midwives and how their needs can be best addressed.”

The authors found that many staff are reluctant to disclose mental health difficulties and avoid asking their managers for support. Where support is available, information is often poorly disseminated. To avert a mental health crisis among staff the report suggests that more healthy working environments are needed for nurses and midwives, the stigma of disclosing mental health problems should be reduced, and managers and leaders need training to identify and alleviate stress in staff.

The report also recommends that phased approaches to return to work should be available to nurses and midwives who are struggling with their mental wellbeing. They should be able to self-refer to services, or for occupational health support, rather than go through their managers. It is particularly important for them to be given the time to access to support systems and to participate in interventions and training.

Finally, nurses and midwives should be also be required to take their full entitlement to breaks and always have access to appropriate food and drink and bathroom facilities.

 Recommendations from the SOM Report include:

  • Action is needed to reduce the stigma of disclosing stress and help-seeking
  • Appropriate flexible working options are needed to improve work-life balance and encourage return to work after sickness absence
  • More emphasis is needed on creating healthier working environments for nurses and midwives and the risks around the occurrence of stress
  • Greater awareness is needed of how increased bureaucracy and administration can increase work demands for nurses and midwives and impact on their wellbeing and patient safety
  • Optimum staffing levels should be guaranteed and the risks to the health of staff and the safety of patients of short staffing recognised
  • Regular risk assessments of psychosocial hazards experienced by nurses and midwives are needed, using best practice frameworks
  • All organisations should have a clear and accessible policy on mental health at work that is put into action
  • Organisations need to have effective policies on dealing with abusive and bullying behaviours in the workplace and must be willing to act on complaints
  • People’s understanding of the role of occupational health professionals should be enhanced to raise awareness of how they can help. Barriers to access should be identified and removed
  • Occupational health services need to have the appropriate resources, knowledge, and tools to meet the needs of staff and staffing levels should be sufficient to meet the increasing demand.

The report was commissioned and funded by the RCN Foundation and written before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The report’s authors say that there is now evidence that the pandemic has highlighted further mental health concerns for nurses and midwives, related to lack of safety equipment, health risks posed to themselves and their families, and the death of colleagues.

SOM is calling for a summit to understand the true impact of the pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives, which groups are at higher risk, and what can be done to alleviate the problems and support individuals.

About the author

Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times

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