Survey: Mental health of nurses still not at prepandemic levels

This yearly survey shows a dire reality for members of the profession

What is compassion fatigue in nursing?

Trusted Health, a health care staffing organization, has released its findings from a 2022 survey on front-line workers and their mental health.

The survey, which the group has conducted for the past three years, aims to “understand the relationship between nurses, their employers and the health care industry at large when it comes to helping nurses manage their mental health.”

" I think this is a really transformational approach that Trusted was taking to elevate the voice of the nurse,” Dr. Dani Bowie said. “They wanted to know at the bedside, ‘What are you experiencing? What’s happening?’ And then, they want to bring light to it so we can impact positive change.”

Bowie, who works as Trusted Health’s vice president of Clinical Strategy and Transformation, has had a long career in health care, including working as a front-line nurse manager. She has seen the issues nurses face firsthand and has been committed to transforming the profession for the better.

After surveying 2,500 nurses throughout multiple health care departments, Trusted Health found nurses have not recovered their mental health levels from before the pandemic.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the profession had issues with mental health. This was mostly because of short staffing and compassion fatigue.

“The state of the nursing workforce was already operating in a deficit,” Bowie said. “Then, the pandemic hit, and took a toll that has been unable to recover.”

According to the survey, 1 in 10 nurses experienced suicidal thoughts since the pandemic began. The longer hours and the higher rate of patient mortality has made it harder for nurses to cope than ever before. The main reasons reported in the survey were burnout, compassion fatigue, depression, and extreme feelings of trauma or PTSD.

The heightened skepticism around health care during the pandemic was a large factor for the decrease in mental health, as well. In fact, 50% of nurses say they’ve been verbally attacked, intimidated or assaulted by a patient or a member of the patient’s family.

While it seems likely those in the health care field would be equipped to find solutions to better their own mental health, the survey shows that is not the case. About 40% of respondents said they do not know what mental health resources are available, and 60% said they are unlikely to ask for help.

“There just isn’t safety in that space,” Bowie said.

Nurses said they are unlikely to ask for help because of fears about confidentiality, job security and a lack of effort by their employers to address the issue.

“Front-line nurse manager is a pivotal junction to allow for that safety. And our front-line nurse managers often haven’t received the training to have these conversations,” Bowie said, “and to know the resources and support they can offer their front-line nurses.”

The entire profession is struggling. Nursing turnover rates are at 27%, which is a spike from before the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, 64% say they have been less committed to nursing since the pandemic hit, and 34% said they are actively looking for a new job.

However, the survey is not all bad news, as Trusted has been able to find ways to fix nursing for the better through its findings.

Bowie said she believes it is important for mental health issues to be destigmatized in the profession of 4.5 million, with the addition of resources such as crisis hotlines and one-on-one counseling becoming a priority across health systems. She said she also believes promotions of physical health, such as health and wellness stipends or in-house fitness facilities, will be pivotal in helping the mental well-being of nurses.

Bowie also said she believes more flexible staffing — which there has been a strong drive for throughout the industry even before the pandemic — is the key to bringing down the turnover rate.

“We wanted to show the voice of the nurse on the front line of what they’re experiencing, and a call to action on our health systems, to start to listen and most importantly move into action and develop these programs that can help support the workforce so we’re sustained in the days ahead,” Bowie concluded.

For more content like this, sign up for the Pulse newsletter here.