Talking About Burnout, Moral Injury and Mental Health at Work: Tips for Healthcare Workers – CDC

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Burnout is common among healthcare workers and is linked to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.1,2 Healthcare workers can also experience moral injury when they are required to witness or participate in an event that violates their moral code.3 Although addressing the underlying causes of burnout and moral injury starts with hospital leaders, there are actions healthcare workers can take to work for change in workplace culture. One important way to do this is to normalize talking about mental health. Your colleagues understand what you’re going through and can be a valuable source of support. These tips can help you start conversations about burnout and mental health with your peers.
Find out what resources your employer offers. These may include traditional mental health and substance use disorder benefits in your health insurance, an employee assistance program (EAP), a peer support group, or other resources. Check on confidentiality and the rules around disclosure for EAP and traditional therapy, so you feel comfortable using and speaking to colleagues about them.
The human resources department is a good source to gather this information and no one should feel stigmatized for seeking assistance. If you have a union, your local leader or steward also can help your find information on benefits and providers. Like physical health issues, mental health challenges are just another part of life that affects most people at some point. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
If you do not want to ask human resources or the union for help, consider asking a trusted colleague to find the information for you. Think about who in your workplace is supportive of those with mental health conditions. This could be through sharing their own story or using respectful language when speaking with others. Consider starting a conversation with them about what these resources are and how to access them.
Show your support by regularly checking in with your colleagues. Simple questions like “how are you doing, really?” can show your peers that they are not alone. They can open the door to further conversations about burnout.4 The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides healthcare peer support resources. NAMI has additional guidance on how healthcare workers can form genuine connections with colleagues during these conversations. They also have steps to take when you’re worried about a peer.
Make a list of 2-3 colleagues with whom you have developed a connection and can lean on during challenging situations. These coworkers can offer a shared perspective and advice when you need support.
We all have a role in normalizing conversations around mental health and substance use disorder. Demonstrate inclusive, non-stigmatizing language when discussing experiences of burnout or mental health conditions in the workplace. For example, don’t use words like “crazy” or “insane.” This is important whether you’re speaking about your and your colleagues’ experiences or your patients. Avoid labels or stereotypes and emphasize the person, not the condition. For example, use phrases like “a person with schizophrenia” rather than “a schizophrenic.” The American Hospital Association’s People Matter, Words Matter offers resources to equip healthcare workers with compassionate, non-stigmatizing language. This can help your colleagues feel safe discussing mental health concerns.
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If these people don’t exist for you at work, it’s even more important to have someone to check in with regularly. This may include friends, family, a counselor or therapist, external colleagues, a clinician support group, or anyone else you feel comfortable with.
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1. Nigam JA, Barker RM, Cunningham TR, Swanson NG, Chosewood LC [2023]. Vital signs: Health worker–perceived working conditions and symptoms of poor mental health — quality of worklife survey, United States, 2018–2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 72:1197–1205.
2. Koutsimani P, Montgomery A, Georganta K [2019]. The relationship between burnout, depression, and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Psychol. 10:284.
3. Griffin BJ, Purcell N, Burkman K, Litz BT, Bryan CJ, Schmitz M, Villierme C, Walsh J, Maguen S [2019]. Moral injury: An integrative review. J Traum Stress. 32(3):350-62.
4. U.S. Surgeon General [2022]. Addressing health worker burnout: The U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on building a thriving health workforce. Washington, DC: Office of the Surgeon General.

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