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Is Your Department Affecting Your Mental Health?


As a nurse or a healthcare provider, you usually have a say in terms of where you work and in what department. However, choosing where to work often comes with serious implications for your physical and mental health. Some departments and facilities can take toll on your overall well being more than others, leading to high rates of burnout, stress, fatigue, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. If you’re not up to the task at hand, the job could start to wear away at your ability to lead a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re just starting out in your career or you’re considering changing departments, learn more about how certain work environments in the medical field can affect your health.

The Challenges of Working in the ICU

It’s no secret that working in the emergency room or ICU is often more stressful than working in a general practitioner’s office. ICU staff members tend to suffer from higher rates of stress and depression. A recent healthcare survey in the U.K. found that 12% of ICU physicians, compared to 5% of the general nursing population, reported clinically relevant depressive symptoms and 3% were experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Additional studies show that certain departments can push healthcare workers over the edge when it comes to burnout and fatigue. According to the findings, 18% of ICU nurse staff at a university hospital in the United States not only met the criteria of burnout syndrome, but also exceeded the cut-off criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers found higher rates of intrusion, avoidance, and arousal – three symptoms associated with PTSD – in ICU nurses. Those working in the intensive care unit also tend to suffer from more work-related nightmares than those working outside the ICU.

Ongoing exposure to workplace stressors can even lead to various mental disorders, which can impede workplace performance and potentially worsen patient outcomes. However, long-term exposure to the ICU doesn’t affect every employee in the same way. Some nurses and healthcare workers show remarkable resilience to the effects of dealing with such high-stress situations.

How to Improve Your Work Environment

So, why are some nurses and employees better suited to the ICU than others? It all comes down to training and organizational preparedness.

In addition to shorter shifts, more time off, and better working conditions, facilities can focus on staff training as a way of mitigating the effects of certain stressful situations and departments.

As part of the report titled Mental Health in Anesthesiology and ICU Staff: Sense of Coherence Matters conducted at Saarland University Medical Center in Homburg, Germany, researchers looked at several important skills and how effective they were at reducing the harmful effects of working in the ICU.

Sense of Coherence

One skill they point out is known as sense of coherence (SOC), which describes a global orientation of confidence in one’s ability to cope with and overcome stressful and challenging situations in life. According to the study,

“SOC enables individuals to manage stressful experiences by mobilizing their internal as well as external resources to cope with specific problems and situations. Additionally, a strong SOC also comprises a feeling of meaningfulness that provides the individual with the belief that the demands and challenges of life are worth facing.”

Higher levels of SOC have been shown to reduce work-related stress levels in hospital staff and paramedics.

Researchers also examined the role of general resilience in the medical field. The authors of the study defined resilience as “the ability to adapt successfully in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or significant threat.” Strengthening an employee’s sense of resilience can help them better cope with the challenges of working in the ICU.

Challenges of the Emergency Department

Life in the emergency room often means a lack of predictability. Things are always changing on a dime, and staying ahead of the game can sometimes seem fruitless. That’s why researchers also looked at what’s known as a person’s locus of control (LOC), which measures the individual’s perceived ability to control their environment and certain outcomes. The more control a person believes they have over their surroundings, the better prepared they will be to face the unexpected challenges that come their way.

Overall, researchers found that SOC was the most important skill when it comes to overcoming the negative effects of working in the ICU and the ER. Facilities should focus on improving their employees’ sense of coherence, resilience, and locus of control before assigning them to the emergency room or ICU.

As a healthcare worker, you need to take care of yourself before you can care for your patients. If your department is affecting your health, it might be best to consider a change of location. If the job continues eating away at your nerves, it may start to affect your ability to do your job, which will only hurt your patients. Be honest with yourself in terms of your current work environment and take stock of your health to make sure you’re up to the task at hand.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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