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Burnout and Beyond: Mental Health Awareness for Clinicians

Merritt Hawkins Team | May 26, 2021

Burnout and Beyond-Mental Health Awareness for Clinicians

Stress and trauma from COVID-19 cases are affecting clinicians, adding to healthcare burnout and mental illness. Learn more during Mental Health Awareness Month.

While physicians and other practitioners have shared experiences working during the pandemic, each individual may cope differently. Each person must recognize the symptoms of potential burnout and mental illness, in themselves and others, and take the appropriate actions.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Month in May is “You are not alone,” which also applies to medical professionals. As noted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the goal is that anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives—and no one will feel alone in their struggle.

Healthcare burnout, mental illness and COVID-19

Healthcare burnout can include feelings of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of personal accomplishment that leads to decreased effectiveness at work. But it doesn’t stop there.

“Burnout can lead to depression, anxiety, secondary traumatization or other psychiatric conditions,” explained Richard Summers, MD, former chair of the American Psychiatric Association Workgroup on Psychiatrist Well-being and Burnout in an APA video. He added that some physicians may be suffering from depression or trauma and labeling it burnout and not getting the appropriate treatment.

In Merritt Hawkins’ 2021 Healthcare Trends Survey Report, healthcare executives rated provider burnout as potentially the most disruptive force hospitals and health systems face in the next three years—due to the negative impact on clinicians, staff turnover and patient outcomes.

In 2019, just before the pandemic, the rate of physician burnout was already hitting new highs—with nearly 78 percent reporting some level of professional burnout. Then the pandemic arrived, adding unrelenting pressure, ranging from difficult workloads and traumatic outcomes to safety concerns for practitioners and their loved ones.

This data was highlighted in a recent white paper, The Mental Health Impacts of Healthcare Burnout, a joint project by Merritt Hawkins and Headspace. Other data showed that, due to COVID-19’s detrimental effects on their practice or employment situation:  

  • 50 percent of physicians have experienced inappropriate anger, tearfulness or anxiety
  • 18 percent of physicians have increased their use of medications, alcohol or illicit drugs
  • 4 percent of physicians have sought medical attention for a physical problem directly related to these issues.

In addition, nearly 1 in 4 physicians (22 percent) know a physician who has committed suicide, considered suicide (26 percent) or attempted suicide (15 percent).

How organizations can promote clinician wellness

Physicians and other healthcare workers need support as they navigate the current challenges and deal with the long-term effects of COVID-19. Mental health experts point out that organizations can start by supporting wellness through various initiatives.

For instance, the American Psychiatric Association has outlined workplace solutions that include three key domains of physician well-being:

  1. Culture of wellness in the workplace. Elements include a sense of community, open communication with leadership, and a plan for staff retention.
  2. Optimal workflow elements. These elements include realistic productivity measures, realistic documentation requirements, assistance with administrative burdens and reasonable physician autonomy. 
  3. Support of personal resilience strategies. Examples include: employee assistance benefits including access to mental health services; time for vacation, illness, and adequate continuing medical education; plus education on strategies to promote well-being and resilience.

Fighting the stigma of mental health care in medicine

Medical providers are often hesitant to discuss their own mental health issues, due to fears of stigma or prejudice. Yet studies have shown that open discussion can make a difference. For example, in one small, randomized trial of medical students, the students reported that exposure to physicians discussing their personal mental health struggles significantly improved their attitudes toward mental illness and would make them more likely to access care if needed. 

The American Medical Association (AMA) has long spoken up against the stigma of mental illness in medicine, according to a recent blog by AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD. She noted that the AMA encourages physicians to receive behavioral health services, while encouraging licensing boards and credentialing bodies to protect patients’ privacy and confidentiality.

AMN Healthcare and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have entered into a StigmaFree Company partnership. As a company of AMN Healthcare, Merritt Hawkins aims to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and create a safe place for people to ask for help. AMN also offers its team members a wellness program, an employee assistance program and virtual visits covered by AMN insurance plans. 

Where to find help for mental health issues

Mental health awareness is just as important for practitioners as it is for patients, and taking care of your mental health is equally as important as taking care of your physical health. 

Clinicians experiencing difficulties are encouraged to talk to a professional. A licensed therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or other type of mental health professional may be able to help you, with access through your health insurance or your organization’s employee assistance program. 

Several resources are also available for healthcare professionals and employers, including:


The Mental Health Impacts of Healthcare Burnout – white paper
Survey Highlights Provider Burnout and Disengagement as Major Issue in Healthcare
The Importance of Self-Care for Healthcare Professionals During COVID-19

Merritt Hawkins specializes in placing physicians and advanced practitioners in career opportunities across the United States.

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