Harassment Reports by Health Workers More Than Double Since 2018, Posing Threat to Mental Health
A new report from the CDC Vital Signs reveals a concerning surge in harassment reported by health workers in the United States. The number of health workers reporting incidents of harassment at their workplaces more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2018. This harassment includes threats, bullying, verbal abuse, and other actions, both from patients and coworkers, contributing to a hostile work environment.
The findings of this report are of paramount importance as they shed light on the impact of this harassment on the mental health of health workers, who were already experiencing a crisis of burnout prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic introduced unique challenges that may have exacerbated health worker mental health issues and their intentions to leave their jobs. The report is the first to comprehensively describe and compare the well-being and working conditions of health workers, other essential workers, and all other workers before the pandemic in 2018 and after the start of the pandemic in 2022.
The study reveals that health workers have continued to face a mental health crisis, with greater declines in various mental health outcomes compared to other workers. Positive working conditions, such as the ability to participate in decision-making, trust in management, supervisor assistance, adequate time to complete work, support for productivity, and the absence of harassment, were found to be associated with reduced feelings of anxiety, depression, and burnout.
Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC Chief Medical Officer, emphasized the importance of supporting health workers, stating that employers must take immediate action to modify working conditions associated with burnout and poor mental health outcomes within healthcare settings. The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is set to launch a national campaign called the Impact Wellbeing campaign to provide health employers with resources to improve worker mental health.
These findings align with the recommendations outlined in the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2022 report, Addressing Health Worker Burnout, stressing the need for a system that allows health workers to thrive.
Dr. L. Casey Chosewood, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Office for Total Worker Health®, emphasized the timely nature of the CDC’s efforts to address health worker mental health. He noted that employers can make a significant difference by taking preventive actions to improve challenging working conditions that are linked to anxiety, depression, and burnout.
The report issues a call to action, urging employers to modify working conditions, organizational structures, and support systems that contribute to poor mental health. These changes may include allowing health workers to participate in decision-making, building trust in management, providing supervisor assistance, ensuring enough time to complete work, and actively preventing and addressing harassment reports.
Employers, supervisors, and workers are encouraged to explore resources provided by NIOSH’s Health Worker Mental Health Initiative to enhance mental health in the workplace. The general public is also urged to express appreciation for health workers’ essential work and to treat them with understanding and respect.
If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. 988 connects you with a trained crisis counselor who can help.
If you or someone you know needs assistance (in English or Spanish) with mental health concerns and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery, please contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help.