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Situation critical: Distressed health-care workers in need of psychological support

New research looks to support health-care workers’ psychological self-care and to protect them from moral distress. The report highlights elevated stress levels health-care workers experienced both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the report, developed in collaboration with the Centre for Studies in Primary Care at Queen’s University and HEC Montréal’s Healthcare Management Hub, reveals 40 per cent of health-care workers are burned out, 50 per cent intend to leave the profession, and just 60 per cent are satisfied with the quality of care they provide.

The findings suggest that higher moral distress relates to higher levels of burnout, while increased self-care relates to lower levels of burnout. While almost every barrier linked to the pandemic resulted from staff shortages, respondents pointed out that this was a pre-existing issue that worsened during COVID-19.

“Health-care workers are some of the most resilient and dedicated professionals there are, and yet most are at the breaking point. Health-care workplaces and workers stretched beyond capacity after two and a half years of a pandemic deserve top priority from everyone in a position to make change.” — Dr. Colleen Grady, Queen’s University

On a positive note, respondents felt that mental health-related stigma had decreased, and their ability to discuss personal struggles with peers had become more widespread and accepted.

Health-care workers also provided short- and long-term suggestions to improve support for psychological self-care and protection from moral distress. These include:

  • prioritize psychological health and safety in the workplace through advocacy, strategy, and action
  • make every effort to protect sufficient time off for health-care workers
  • advocate for sustained resources (human and financial)
  • embed appropriate and adequate operational policies and procedures to support health-care workers, such as clearly developed protocols for support (e.g., debriefing sessions after significant events)
  • cultivate an ethical work climate
  • update health human resource strategies

“Promoting psychological self-care and reducing moral distress in health-care workers can prevent exhaustion and turnover while increasing quality of care. Proactive actions, like giving voice to employees and including them in decision-making processes, can support an ethical work climate. Transparency and effective communication are also critical for increasing trust in health-care organizations’ leadership” — Dr. Denis Chênevert, Healthcare Management Hub, HEC Montréal

The research included respondents from a variety of health-care professions, including nurses (31%), social workers (12%), and personal support workers (11%). Most respondents worked in hospitals (36%), home and community care (13%), and long-term care (13%). In total, 982 health-care workers across Canada were surveyed from December 2021 to February 2022. The study also collected qualitative data from 30 interview participants.

“We want to express our gratitude to the health-care workers who contributed to this important research. Its findings show clearly that addressing the well-being of our health-care workforce is a vital task, one that policy makers at all levels can no longer avoid. As the pandemic demonstrates, we need to take care of the people who take care of us when we are at our most vulnerable.” — Michel Rodrigue, President and CEO, Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Media Relations
Mental Health Commission of Canada
613-683-3748 / media@mentalhealthcommission.ca

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The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change, an organization designed to recommend improvements to the mental health system on a national level. We are not directly involved in individual cases of advocacy, outreach, service delivery or local supports.