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Many nurses aren’t getting help for their mental health. That needs to change.

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The majority of nurses say they are experiencing burnout, but some aren’t getting the assistance they need.

More than half of all nurses say they are struggling with burnout, but some aren’t seeking the help they need for their mental health.

An American Nurses Foundation survey of more than 7,400 nurses in May 2023 found that 56% say they are experiencing burnout. Most say they are experiencing at least one symptom, such as exhaustion, while many say they are consumed by their frustrations at work.

However, the same report showed that about two-thirds of nurses surveyed say they aren’t getting any support for their mental health. More than half of the nurses surveyed (56%) say there is a stigma to mental health services.

Nurses said the most common reason they don’t seek assistance for their mental health is one that many nurses can understand: they don’t have time. The lack of time was the top reason, followed by the sentiment that they should be able to take care of their own needs.

Roughly 1 in 5 (19%) cited a lack of knowledge or resources in not seeking help, or concerns that they could lose their job or their colleagues could find out.

The American Nurses Association has encouraged nurses to get assistance, and has also put out statements calling for the healthcare industry to recognize the importance of taking care of nurses.

“The profession must put an end to the stigma that is still attached to mental health issues so that all nurses feel able to get the help they need,” the association said in a 2020 statement.

Many doctors say they don’t seek assistance for their mental health needs because they are worried that their employers or state licensing boards would find out about it. Some nurses have similar concerns about professional repercussions, says Rebecca Love, a nursing leader and member of the Commission for Nurse Reimbursement.

Some nurses think “if you were discovered that you were seeking mental healthcare as a nurse, suddenly, you're a risk to the hospital system … So this is a knock against you,” Love says.

She says she’s encouraged by the American Nurse Association’s efforts to get people to seek help. But she also wonders if the high stress on nurses, coupled with the reluctance to get assistance for fear of career damage, is driving some nurses to leave the profession.

As Love says, “If nurses feel that they can't survive in these environments, and then can't seek help, because it would actually hurt them in their career as a nurse, are they choosing to leave the profession because there isn't a pathway to actually deal with the trauma that they're dealing with at the bedside?”

Some mental advocates are pushing hospitals, healthcare organizations and state licensing boards to drop unnecessary questions about mental health and treatment. The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation has been leading the charge, and more than half of the states have now dropped questions about mental health from their licensing questions for physicians.

J. Corey Feist, founder and CEO of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation, told Chief Healthcare Executive® in a recent interview that it’s time to focus on dropping those questions on nurse license applications.

“Nursing licensing is lagging the medical licensing,” Feist said. “And so we need to get the nursing licensing boards on the same page and get them through this process.”

Given the success the foundation has had with state boards recently, Feist says he’s hopeful to see similar success for nurses.

“The nursing boards are just looking at this issue now for the first time,” Feist said. “And so we're here to help them and here to help show them the way, and that there are a number of really positive steps they can make to make an immediate and long term impact on the well being of the nursing workforce.”

Hospitals and healthcare organizations can also help nurses by adopting more flexible schedules, and making sure they know what help is available, the American Nurses Foundation says. Employers can also look to remove the documentation burdens that add to the stress on nurses.

Getting help

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Dial or text 988 to connect with someone. Help is available 24/7.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers resources for healthcare professionals.

NAMI: The National Alliance for Mental Illness offers “frontline wellness” resources for healthcare workers and public safety employees.

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