Healthcare workers have tremendous mental health needs but rarely seek the help they need.
Healthcare providers stand as the crossroads of health and sickness, between life and death, for millions of individuals around the country. They routinely face a barrage of unique stressors stemming from their noble profession. But they are still people. So it should come as no surprise that, as they strive to care for people at their most vulnerable moments, often within systems stretched thin of resources, emotional distress and mental health conditions are prevalent. They battle alarmingly high and increasing rates of burnout, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The consequences are dire with hundreds of thousand of healthcare workers leaving their jobs prematurely each year, and far too many losing their lives to suicide.
Effective evidence-based therapies exist that can significantly improve the lives of our healthcare workers and markedly reduce the risk of suicide. Yet, fewer than 1 in 3 healthcare providers, including those most desperate for help, seek the support they need. This glaring disparity is unacceptable.
Regrettably, the path to seeking help is strewn with systemic barriers that discourage healthcare workers from reaching out. At the heart of these emotional struggles, we have identified several significant barriers:
- Career Implications: Healthcare workers fear that seeking help could adversely affect their ability to practice. They fear that the act of seeking help could be discovered by others in the future and used to limit their ability to practice. Questions about mental health are still common on applications for licensing, credentialing, and insurance, and they also worry about the potential for medicolegal discovery and weaponization of their mental health information.
- Stigma: An damaging deep-rooted stigma surrounds emotional and mental health needs within the healthcare community. Healthcare workers often unfairly judge themselves and fear judgment from their peers or supervisors. They worry that seeking help cause them to be perceived as weak or inept.
- Self-care Misconceptions: There is often an unrealistic expectation among healthcare workers that they should be capable of managing their mental health without assistance – a sort of misplaced self-reliance that ignores the importance of professional, evidence-based help.
- Logistical Barriers: Healthcare workers face unique complications when it comes to finding time for appointments due to their demanding schedules. Additionally, to preserve confidentiality, they often seek care outside of their network, which further limits accessibility. This can also result in higher costs if providers are out-of-network or if they choose to pay out-of-pocket to keep the information ‘off the books.’
Understanding these barriers is a crucial first step. At The Emotional PPE Project, we are dedicated to systematically exploring these and other barriers that stand between healthcare workers and the emotional support they need.