Viewpoint: 4 ways healthcare leaders can protect employee mental health

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Healthcare leaders can prioritize their staff's mental health by making four slight changes in their organization, according to a May 25 op-ed published in Forbes. 

Andrew Mendonsa, PsyD, is a psychologist and the vice president of West Coast clinical and governmental relations for Sprout Health Group, which offers support for alcohol and substance use disorder.

Four ways healthcare leaders can prioritize mental health:

1. Make stress management an ongoing conversation.
Front-line workers need healthy ways to manage the stress of their job. In a survey by Berxi, an insurance division of Berkshire Hathaway, 84 percent of healthcare workers reported feeling burned out. Without a healthy coping mechanism, employees, especially older adults, may turn to alcohol. In a Medscape survey, 30 percent of baby boomer physicians had more than five drinks each week, up from 21 percent in 2019. Healthcare leaders should provide education on healthy stress management and help employees recognize when their coping mechanisms may be problematic.

2. Implement a buddy system.
Healthcare leaders should build a supportive culture that prioritizes mental health and help those struggling find the help they need. Since recognizing symptoms of deteriorating mental health can be difficult to recognize in yourself, Dr. Mendonsa suggests a buddy system, where employees ask a colleague to share when they've noticed a change in mood or behavior and vice versa.

3. Fight the stigmas of getting help.
Some healthcare workers are reluctant to seek mental health help because they fear it may affect their credibility or their license to practice. Others may feel that they don't have time or they can fix the problem on their own. Healthcare leaders can help to fight these stigmas of mental health disorders by making them feel comfortable seeking the help they need.

4. Share what services are available.
Some hospitals have added "wellness respite rooms" to increase access to mental health services. Other hospitals have increased the number of allotted personal days for staff. Healthcare leaders should communicate the resources their hospital has available for staff members. Some team members may fear stigma or retribution; for these staff members share the confidential resources for both inside and outside your hospital.

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