Prioritizing and Improving Mental Health Among Healthcare Workers

As the risk of burnout for healthcare workers increases, industry leaders must prioritize mental health and make improvements.

By: Margaret Ryman

Read time: 4 minutes

Healthcare workers across the country are facing an elevated risk of stress, burnout, depression, trauma, and other mental health challenges. Public health emergencies such as COVID-19 exacerbate these concerns as healthcare workers adapt quickly to changes in patient volume, mounting demands, expanded clinical roles, and new technologies.

More than 60% of frontline healthcare workers say the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health, according to a national survey published from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post. About 13% of those surveyed reported accessing mental health services or medications, while 18% said they didn’t seek needed services due to the associated high costs and stigma surrounding mental health assistance.

In addition, heavy workloads, long shifts, job insecurity, and lack of social support have contributed to the heightened stress among healthcare workers. This work-related stress can have a negative impact on providers' professionalism, quality of care delivery, efficiency, and overall quality of life.1

The Evolving Role of Frontline Pharmacists during the Pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, the role of pharmacists expanded as they had to adapt to rapidly changing guidelines, launch life-saving vaccine clinics and testing sites, and procure hard-to-find therapies. This growth will continue as health systems across the country depend on pharmacists to manage supply and mitigate drug shortages, as well as provide patient education and guidance on medication. Unfortunately, pharmacists are often underrepresented regarding advocacy.


Pharmacists are the most easily accessible healthcare workers for many patients. This has led to a dramatic increase in the number of patients seen by pharmacists during the pandemic. This increase comes with challenges for pharmacists, including higher risk of infection, addressing misinformation, and patient education regarding proper hygiene and infection control.

Prevention Measures and Interventions

Investing in preventive measures can help provide long term solutions for reducing the burden on healthcare workers.

  • The World Health Organization's Self-Help Plus (SH+) stress management intervention addresses the elevated psychological stress and risks of burnout among healthcare workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups are interventions that can give healthcare workers a chance to debrief with others with similar experiences.2
  • New technology, including AI-powered digital assistants, can improve the capacity and capability of healthcare workers by reducing their administrative and cognitive burden.

Workplace Culture and Leadership

Health systems and other care facilities should also establish adequate parental and sick leave policies and limit the length of work shifts when possible.

Healthcare leaders must work toward reducing mental health stigmas by normalizing discussions about mental health among healthcare workers, while establishing long-term screening and prevention programs to monitor for early signs of burnout, PTSD, and other mental health issues.3

Government Policy and Legislation

The pandemic has affected the mental and emotional wellbeing of physicians, with female physicians and those in critical care and infectious disease reporting the highest burnout rates, according to a December physician burnout report from Medscape.

Recently, President Biden signed into law the “Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act,” which authorizes programs to improve mental and behavioral health among healthcare providers. The law will provide up to $135 million in federal funding for mental health education and awareness campaigns aimed at protecting the well-being of healthcare workers.

The law is named for Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency medicine physician and faculty member at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center who died by suicide in April 2020.

The goal of the law is to prevent suicide, alleviate mental health conditions, address substance use disorders, and combat the stigma associated with seeking help for healthcare workers.

Health Worker Mental Health Initiative

As part of the American Rescue Plan of 2021, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received congressional funding to deliver a national awareness and education campaign to safeguard and improve the mental health of health workers.


As part of a new Health Worker Mental Health Initiative, they aim to:

  • Raise awareness of mental health issues
  • Eliminate barriers to accessing care
  • Identify workplace and community support for health workers
  • Reduce the stigma associated with seeking and receiving care for mental health
  • Identify and improve data, screening tools, trainings, resources, and policies to address health worker mental health

Healthcare workers across health systems and disciplines are facing significant stressors, burdens, and mental health challenges as a result of their work during the pandemic. Prevention measures and interventions must be put in place to protect the mental health and well-being of the healthcare workforce—not only during a public health crisis, but on a day-to-day basis.

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