Medical professionals are at higher risk for depression given the difficulties in creating a healthy work-life balance, the stressors of the profession, and the emotional toll of caregiving.

With National Depression Screening Day having just passed, now is the perfect time to assess your workplace for at-risk employees. Here are a few strategies to prevent and identify depression among healthcare workers.

Depression in the Medical Field

According to Mental Health First Aid USA, approximately one-third of doctors could be considered clinically depressed, and 400 commit suicide each year.

Similarly, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) estimated that depression affects 18% of nurses. These rates are about double that of the general population.

Medical professionals often avoid talking about mental health problems because of the stigma that surrounds them. There’s an unspoken belief that doctors and nurses need to be “tough enough” to handle caregiving. But depression isn’t a matter of personal strength; it’s a disease. So those at higher risk for depression must receive better support.

8 Signs of Depression in Healthcare Workers

Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation lists eight symptoms of depression. Keep an eye out for these:

  1. Changes in appetite
  2. Feeling hopeless
  3. Irritability
  4. Not engaging in activities you enjoy
  5. Feeling alone
  6. Feeling devoid of joy
  7. Feeling like you lack energy
  8. Sleep disturbances

It’s also essential to differentiate depression from burnout and compassion fatigue.

Depression is an illness with specific symptoms. It affects all aspects of life. Burnout, on the other hand, is felt about a particular area of life, such as work.

Feelings of exhaustion will often lessen with time spent away from the source of burnout. Compassion fatigue is a type of burnout, and it impacts the ability of healthcare workers to create emotional connections with patients.

Mental Health America has an online self-assessment that can be used to screen for depression. It’s a short, 10-item test that anyone can take, and it’s a good starting point for healthcare workers.

4 Ways to Support Mental Health Among Doctors and Nurses

1. Raise Awareness

Healthcare workers need to understand that they have higher rates of depression than the general population. This type of awareness is essential for defeating stigmas that prevent doctors and nurses from seeking help.

Dedicate one or two months a year to mental health awareness. Luncheons, free screenings, co-worker support groups, anonymous hotlines, posters, brochures, and speakers are all excellent ways to break the ice and start conversations about the mental health of your workforce.

2. Reduce Fear

Many healthcare professionals are afraid to talk about what they’re going through because they fear rejection from their peers. Make sure your staff knows that they can speak to their supervisors about what they’re feeling without fear of repercussions.

3. Increase Job Satisfaction

In one study, job dissatisfaction significantly predicted depression amongst nurses. Nurses who don’t enjoy coming to work are more likely to suffer burnout, compassion fatigue, and depression.

So, keep a pulse on your work environment and intervene as necessary to prevent employee dissatisfaction. Enforcing zero-tolerance bullying policies, helping employees develop better communication and teamwork skills, and hiring team players may help.

4. Support Work-Life Balance

Find creative ways to encourage employees to create better work-life balance and reduce workplace stress. Napping pods in break rooms, in-hospital staff yoga, and relaxing spaces with healthy foods are fantastic ways to help doctors and nurses de-stress during a shift.

National Depression Screening Day

You can learn more about National Depression Screening Day and handling depression by visiting Mental Health America. Dedicate this month to training your staff on the importance of detecting depression.