Mental health workers miss own burnout

  • Deborah Condon

Burnout is a relatively common problem among people working in the area of mental health. However, new research has found that some workers in this field find it difficult to recognise their own burnout, and even if they do, they struggle to tell others about it.

"Burnout has long been a problem in mental health workplaces and remains so despite much research and considerable knowledge of it amongst professional employees. Despite working in this sector, employees struggle to avoid burnout and we wanted to study how work places could improve support," explained Australian researchers.

They looked at 55 people working specifically in the area of mental health, including nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers.

All were questioned about their beliefs, attitudes and perceptions of burnout, including how these impacted on their wellbeing while at work.

The researchers found that many of the participants had suffered from burnout, and they felt like they were less capable in their jobs as a result.

Many did not initially recognise the signs of burnout and even when these signs were acknowledged, many workers blamed themselves and struggled with revealing the problem for fear of being judged in a negative light.

The researchers described it as ‘concerning' that some workers ‘found it difficult to recognise burnout in themselves until signs of physical and emotional breakdown had affected their work'.

"An interesting point made was that as burnout reduced their mental/physical health and work competence, it also reduced their ability to recognise that they were suffering from burnout. Therefore, once the process of depletion had begun, they were less likely to seek support and more likely to ignore the warning signs.

"Several commented on the irony of being a mental health worker, yet being unable to recognise symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in themselves," they noted.

The researchers called on organisations to try to help staff to recognise their own symptoms and to seek appropriate treatment.

"They have a duty of care for staff that are unable to see their own situation, whether due to unrealistic or unhealthy workload expectations or factors outside the employer's control," the Australian team added.

Details of these findings were presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society Division of Occupational Psychology in Glasgow.


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