Mental Health Nurse Burnout | Causes, Symptoms, Recovery, Prevention

Nurse burnout is the state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by work-related stressors. These stressors can include:

  • Fatigue from long hours.
  • Pressure for quick decision-making.
  • Exhaustion from the patient load.

As behavioral health nurses face these compounding factors, they start feeling disengaged and detached. These are the first warning signs of burnout. If this situation is not addressed with good self-care, they risk cynicism, hopelessness, and even anxiety and depression themselves.

How to Recognize When Mental Health Staff is Burning Out

Nurse burnout is a concern for nurses themselves, their employers, and the patients they care for as job performance can decline. Behavioral nurses themselves are at risk for developing depressive disorders and other mental health conditions. For some, this leads to them quitting their job in frustration and high turnover rates for practices and hospitals that do promote a healthy work-life balance.

For patients, nurse burnout can directly affect their emotional health outcomes. For healthcare institutions, a decrease in patient care quality can affect both reputation and revenue.

Signs of excessive fatigue can lead to staff turnover. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported a correlation between burnout syndrome and nurses’ intention to leave. This increased turnover puts more stress on the remaining staff who may also be experiencing burnout.

A dangerous risk associated with exhaustion is a decrease in the quality of patient care. Mistakes due to fatigue can lead to patients being given the wrong medication doses. They can also suffer from neglect, as nurses are physically unable to provide the attentive care they need.

Causes of Nurse Burnout

Occupational burnout is common in all fields. Mental health professionals are exceptionally vulnerable.

A contributing factor is revealed in the growing demand for nurses as healthcare workers are increasingly in demand. The current mental health crisis has put additional strain on supply.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for registered nurses will grow by 12% between 2018 and 2028. That’s good news for those continuing in the field. Though the pace of this increase has led to growing pains, especially burnout. The cause: fewer nurses working more hours.

     Common conditions leading to mental health nurse burnout include:

Long hours – Whether it’s 11–13-hour shifts, or even 8–9-hour stints, the grind adds up. This time away from family, friends and activities people enjoy takes its toll on work-life balancing.

High-stress environments – Each nursing specialty brings its own challenges, behavioral health tops the anxiety list. Behavioral health’s combative and unpredictable patients bring high-stress levels and an increased risk of burnout.

Emotional Strain from Patient Care – Helping patients is one of the most rewarding aspects of nursing, making connections and being a part of their healing. The number of patients nurses care for is another factor. Those with greater than a 1:4 nurse-to-patient ratio have a higher risk of burnout. Each additional patient raises the risk by 23 percent.

Lack of Support If a workplace lacks a culture of good teamwork and collaboration practices, burnout may be more prevalent there. Poor workplace partnerships, characterized by conflict, sub-par communication, and lack of cooperation, make for an unpleasant work environment.

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Professional Burnout

The signs of excessive stress will appear when a nurse endures:

  • Longer work hours or overnight shifts.
  • High-stress environments.
  • Too many responsibilities.
  • Anxiety over if they’re providing the right patient care.
  • Harassment from patients or coworkers.
  • RN shortage leads to too much work and too many hours.
  • Lack of work-life balance.
  • Overall job dissatisfaction.

The symptoms of burnout include:

  • Always feeling tired or fatigued.
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.
  • Feeling apathetic about helping others (patients and coworkers).
  • Constant dread or panic about work.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Increased anxiety and depression.

How Nurses Recover from Stressors

Here are tactics nurses can use to recover from burnout conditions:

  1. Identify the signs. Look for signs of burnout mentioned above. Learn what a person’s mind and body do when they’re becoming mentally fatigued. Much like behavioral health itself, early intervention makes a difference.
  2. Taking care. For nurses, it’s vital to set aside time to recover from work stressors. Practicing self-care outside of work helps one to be prepared for job demands. And while at work, people should take time to consciously breathe, drink water, and mentally prepare for the tasks ahead.
  3. Learn to say “no.” Many nurses get burned out because they take on too many responsibilities, feeling obligated to accept every task they’re given. Learning when and how to say “no” to things that exceed what’s manageable is beneficial. Knowing boundaries and limits and keeping them makes a better nurse.
  4. Ask for help. People should reach out for help if they’re feeling burned out. Talking to a supervisor, coworker, or friend about an overtaxed emotional state puts the profession’s practices to work. It’s important to reach out to those in their circle to avoid isolation.
  5. Reignite the passion. Those who think about why they chose to become a nurse in the first place often find their joy. Additional education to become a nurse leader can infuse passion, gaining the ability to empower and support peers.

Tips for Preventing Nurse Burnout

     Nurses and nurse leaders can work to prevent burnout by adopting strategies to live by. Here are tips worth trying:

Measuring and Monitoring Staff Stress

Preventing nurse burnout requires leaders to understand the level of stress their staff members experience. By measuring and monitoring this distress, healthcare organizations can better develop and implement the right interventions.

Surveys that ask nurses about various job-related dimensions of well-being are enlightening. Enquiring about professional engagement, feelings of exhaustion, and professional satisfaction, supply nurse leaders with a gauge. These tools give insight into how an organization can promote resilience among its staff. It’ll show what types of support nurses may need.

Prioritize Physical and Mental Health

Practice your skills among fellow practitioners. Nurses must prioritize their own personal physical and mental health to avoid burnout. Engage in practices that build resilience to workday challenges. Find tools that help face and adapt to adversity.

A few helpful options include yoga, meditation, and journal writing to help release stress. These also reduce frustration and create balance in their lives. These activities can offer both physical and mental benefits. Nurses can also commit to exercise routines and nutritious eating habits to support physical wellness and keep them agile and energized.

Nurse leaders should focus on building work environments that promote health and well-being. This effort involves implementing programs such as mindfulness and resilience training. Other stress management activities include mentoring programs. These help workers find encouragement and guidance helpful to respond to challenges as they arise.

Creating Empowering Work Environments

Working environments that foster openness and empower nurses help prevent stress-causing exhaustion. Access to information, resources, and the decision-making process enables them to empower their caregiving. It also provides them with opportunities to grow professionally. This increases active engagement and job satisfaction, two crucial factors in preventing nurse burnout.

Programs that reward and recognize accomplishments help validate nurses’ accomplishments. Department heads can create a platform for them to share opinions and contribute to decision-making. They’ll feel valued – boosting morale and the meaning of their work. Leadership that recognizes nurses’ value increases motivation and builds confidence, keeping them engaged.

These practices give nurses a voice to innovate creative ways to improve efficiency and solve problems. As a result, they feel greater ownership of their work, which positively affects their mental health.

Simplifying the administrative tasks that come with patient care is always a welcomed benefit. Electronic healthcare records management systems provide nurses with a single platform for patient record visibility. This instant access eases the stress of their working lives. Capabilities like adding therapy notes conveniently on each patient’s face sheet mean more face time, and less screen time.

Mental health nurses are the backbone of behavioral health. Their well-being is as important as their patients.

Contact an EHR Software Expert

At Qualifacts, we are committed to serving behavioral health, rehabilitative (PT/OT/SLP), and human services organizations by providing top-rated EHR solutions and services. Our team consists of seasoned professionals with hands-on clinical and administrative experience in these vital service areas. We understand the unique challenges you face and are here to assist you in selecting the most suitable solutions for your organization’s needs. Let’s kickstart the conversation that can transform your services. Complete this brief form to get started.