Empowering Healthcare Providers: Practical Steps for Enhancing Mental Well-Being

Perspective from Andrew Limouris, President & CEO, Medix

Here is a vital question, especially timely in the depths of winter when people can be more susceptible to stress and depression: What can we do to support the mental health of healthcare professionals, especially direct-care providers, who uphold quality patient care under some of the greatest challenges the healthcare industry has ever known? 

Medix believes that everyone should care for their mental health, not only to feel your overall best, but as the first line of defense against mental illness. That belief is ingrained in our corporate culture, and we would like mental health to be a primary focus for more organizations, especially those employing healthcare providers. If more companies (healthcare and everyone else) adopt strong mental health initiatives, millions of people stand to benefit.   

Why Safeguarding the Mental Health of Healthcare Providers is Crucial 

COVID-19 lurks at the core of many of our healthcare system’s current challenges, including rising anxiety and depression among direct-care providers. This group’s burnout rates were on the rise pre-COVID, and during COVID, direct-care providers endured working conditions many people equated to war zones. Data from a 2020 survey of 1,119 healthcare providers was published by Mental Health America and explored by them in this post. A high-level overview of respondents’ COVID-related experiences includes: 

  • stress reported by 93% of respondents and anxiety reported by 86%
  • frustration reported by 77%, burnout and exhaustion by 76%, and feeling overwhelmed, was an experience cited by 75%

Other challenges included worrying about family and partners, emotional and physical exhaustion, sleep problems, and “work-related dread.” Two especially alarming revelations: 55% said they were reconsidering their career choices, and 52% cited “compassion fatigue.” When compassion lags, risks increase for more burnout, provision of lower quality care, and further career abandonment, all cycles that only worsen the problem. And though that Mental Health America survey was conducted in 2020 while the pandemic was in full-siege, the mental health crisis perpetuated by the pandemic continues. 

Addressing Mental Health-Related Stigma Coupled with Government and Institutional Leadership Could Lead to Change

Last October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) launched an initiative to ease healthcare worker burnout, which, according to this article from Forbes, impacted “nearly half of the workforce in 2022.” The campaign, called Impact Wellbeing™, was inspired by the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, a 2022 federal act named for a physician who died by suicide during the early days of COVID. 

The Breen Act calls for addressing the stigma connected with seeking behavioral health treatment and for encouraging healthcare workers who feel they could benefit from help to get it. Historically, many healthcare workers have avoided seeking help for behavioral health issues due to fears of career damage. 

Those fears of career damage might be alleviated due, in part, to institutionally-sponsored demand for reform. The Advocacy Resource Center of the American Medical Association (AMA) published a brief citing problems with medical licensing, credentialing, admissions, and similar applications. The brief wants these applications to eliminate questions about applicants’ past behavioral health diagnoses and substance use disorders, questions that are increasingly considered intrusive, irrelevant, and a barrier to healthcare workers desiring behavioral health support.   

Specific Approaches to Supporting Mental Health Among Medical Professionals 

Advocacy is a great place to start. Use your voice to call for policies, procedures, and legislation to protect healthcare workers. Strive for a company culture that values mental health as highly as physical health, and where conditions including depression and anxiety are viewed with the same open-minded and supportive concern as physical conditions. Other actions might include: 

  • make your organization’s employee assistance program (EAP) easy to access and market it extensively.
  • offer generous salaries and benefits packages, including perks like babysitter stipends, vouchers, and merit-based bonuses. 
  • tap into temporary workforce partners like Medix to lessen workload burdens
  • organize generous displays of appreciation through awards, events, formal and informal acknowledgments, and financial incentives.
  • provide as many paid mental health days as you can; Medix offers six to supplement regular paid time off and encourages teammates to proactively plan their use rather than wait until burnout sets in.   

Other Ways to Support Teammate Mental Health 

Medix acknowledges Mental Health Month which occurs every May. Then we take it 11 steps further by observing it all year long. Medix’s Mental Health Month teammate engagement has included calendars packed with suggestions for daily self-care, like taking a free mental health screening, writing down your goals, or exposing your skin to 15 minutes of sunlight. Year-round, our mentorship program supports teammates beginning (but not ending), at onboarding, and our impact groups offer cultural enrichment and education, teammate problem-solving, networking, friendship, and more.  

Medix also uses soft skills assessments to support teammates. These assessments help them learn more about themselves and be at their best in both their work and outside lives. The result is self-knowledge that constructively informs career planning, job choices, and personal decisions.

Something I’ve said before and will no doubt say again is that work should be the safest place our teammates can go, besides their own homes. It’s something I talk about in my book, Culture Through Crisis: One Team’s Commitment to Winning with Purpose. Any company that sets that tone for teammates has also encouraged them to stay with the company, do their best work, and achieve their best health. 

While the goal of work being almost as safe as home is unrealistic in most clinical settings (outside of Mayberry), an alternate version could be: “Work should be the place you feel the most appreciated, besides your own home.” I think that message should be plastered all over clinical settings everywhere.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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