Research has shown that registered nurses suffer from depression at nearly twice the rate of folks in other professions.
And last year, a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found nurses with worse physical and mental health are also more likely to make medical errors in the workplace. It was the first study of its kind to investigate the relationship between depression and other health indicators in nurses and medical errors.
For the study, researchers with the American Academy of Nursing compiled survey data on 1,790 nurses and their wellness. Of the lot, more than half (54 percent) of the nurses reported poor physical and mental health; about one-third reported some degree of depression, anxiety or stress; and less than half said they felt they had a “good professional quality of life.”
Approximately half of the nurses surveyed reported medical errors in the past five years.
Scientists found a significant link between poor health—depression, in particular—and medical errors. In fact, nurses in poorer health reported a 26 percent to 71 percent higher likelihood of reporting medical errors compared to their healthier counterparts.
Study authors, including Ohio State University College of Nursing dean Bernadette Melnyk, urged hospital administrators to “build a culture of well-being and implement strategies to better support good physical and mental health in their employees,” according to a statement to MedPage Today. “It’s good for nurses, and it’s good for their patients.”
In a January call to action through the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, Melnyk reiterated “the true and startling nature of mental health issues among nurses, issues that are linked to medical errors and an upswing in reported nurse suicides,” citing her team’s 2018 research.
Compared to physicians, nurses face more physical health issues and have higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and depression, Melnyk said, adding: “We should be declaring this a crisis amongst our nursing population.”
Aside from implementing crucial changes in the workplace and ending 12-hour shifts, which Melnyk and her colleagues found contributes to poor health and more medical errors, researchers hope nurses who have not yet done so will get screened for depression, anxiety, burnout and compassion fatigue.
“There is a sense among nurses that they are failing if they don’t stay tough and power through challenges in their practice, but mental health issues such as depression require support to be treated successfully, not unlike a broken bone that requires medical attention,” Melnyk said.
Ultimately, she added, “if we don’t get nurses engaging in healthy behaviors now, our next generation of nurses are going to fall into these same unhealthy habits.”
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