On World Mental Health Day, unions around are demanding a people-centred reform in the care sector that takes burnout and mental health issues seriously. COVID-19 placed a whole new level of demands on the sector. But even without the additional strain of a pandemic, burnout and stress are higher among healthcare workers than in the general population.
“World Mental Health Day provides an opportunity for all care unions to join the conversation about the need to have a people-centred reform in the care sector to address the wellbeing of care workers,” said Adrian Durtschi, UNI Global Union Head for Care.
Some of the key factors driving burnout amongst healthcare workers include: Stressful or unsafe work environments, low or inappropriate staffing levels, feeling undervalued or replaceable, increasing responsibility and complexity of patient care and lack of support from a managerial or organizational level.
A new report presented at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in Doha, Qatar, Our duty of care: A global call to action to protect the mental health of health and care workers, examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of the health and care workforce. It offers a broad range policy of actions as a framework for immediate follow-up by employers, organizations and policymakers, including a greater investment in mental health services. The report found that 23 to 46 per cent of health and care workers reported symptoms of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic and 20 to 37 per cent experienced depressive symptoms. Burnout among health and care workers during the pandemic ranged from 41 to 52 percent.
Women, young people and parents of dependent children were found to be at greater risk of psychological distress—significant considering that women make up 67 per cent of the global health workforce and are subject to inequalities in the sector, such as unequal pay. The higher risk of negative mental health outcomes among younger health workers is also a concern.
This report follows landmark decisions at the World Health Assembly and International Labour Conference in 2022 that reaffirmed the obligations of governments and employers to protect the workforce, ensure their rights and provide them with decent work in a safe and enabling practice environment that upholds their mental health and well-being. Protecting and safeguarding this workforce is also an investment in the continuity of essential public health services to make progress towards universal health coverage and global health security.
A global care workers survey of UNI Global (Global care workers survey: One year into pandemic, hard-hit COVID-19 workforce still endures violence, PPE shortages, poverty wages, understaffing and lack of mental health support – UNI Global Union) last year showed 65 percent of workers who experienced the death of a co-worker or patient reported no support from employers for anxiety, fear, and other mental health issues associated with their work.