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Image of BookJane healthcare worker being open about mental health in the workplace

Talking about mental health in the workplace

While the COVID-19 has had a profound effect on patients around the globe, the pandemic is also affecting the world’s frontline healthcare staff, who continue to report unprecedented levels of anxiety brought on by the exhaustion and stress related to the pandemic.

This article explores how the pandemic is affecting the mental health of healthcare staff and offers guidance on what workplace managers can do to support healthcare workers through these challenging times.

Healthcare staff and mental health

It has been recently reported that one in three nurses has major depressive disorder, while 26% of physicians suffer from burnout. Yet mental health issues in frontline and healthcare worker populations often go untreated, due to the negative stigma around mental health illness and asking for help.

A new study at McGill University examining the levels of psychological distress and coping mechanisms of nurses and physicians found that 50% of nurses and 20% of physicians studied stated a desire to quit their jobs, which according to study researchers can be viewed as a response to stress and psychological distress. Furthermore, according to a recent survey conducted by Statistics Canada, seven in ten health care workers have reported worsening mental health during the pandemic.


7 in 10 healthcare workers have reported worsening mental health during the pandemic

How to support healthcare staff


1. Talk

Talking about mental health isn’t easy. But the more the topic is avoided, the more the stigma grows. To break the cycle, healthcare managers should address mental health issues proactively and strategically. Managers have a responsibility to create an environment that allows for honest conversations with staff who may be suffering. In fact, research shows that workers who feel authentic in the workplace perform better. Leaders at all levels of healthcare organizations must work to reduce the stigma of mental health illness by talking with employees and developing resources and plans for those who may be facing mental health challenges.  

2. Listen

To create the right kind of environment where healthcare staff feel respected and heard, taking the following steps may help:

  • Be straightforward with staff that your intention in listening is to offer help

  • If something is interfering with your ability to listen attentively, then reschedule the conversation to a time when you can be fully present

  • When you start thinking about solutions, recognize that you have stopped listening, and refocus

  • To stay focused on the big picture, notice overall themes – such as social isolation – and don’t get caught up in details and minutia of the conversation

  • This is your colleague’s experience – be sure to separate it from your own

3. Avoid Fixing

Leaders and managers are supposed to troubleshoot and solve problems. But in this situation, don’t try and “fix.” If your employee thinks that you see them as broken, their confidence may be undermined. Approach all conversations with your colleague knowing that they are capable and resourceful – but they may need you support just by listening and asking questions such as:

  • What would be helpful to you?

  • How can I support without overstepping?

  • Let’s look at some resources available to you

As frontline healthcare staff continue to face fatigue and mental health challenges related to the third wave of the pandemic, healthcare leaders have a responsibility to help employees manage their mental health in a stigma-free and supportive environment.

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