Burnout is a serious concern when it comes to nurses. People who are in positions of care can often find that they overextend themselves, and in focussing so much on caring for other people, they end up forgetting about their own health.

One of the common conditions that can occur due to burnout is depression – a mental health disorder characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities

A new research suggests that nurses depression is linked to a higher likelihood they’ll make medical errors.

In an American study, it was found that more than half of the 1790 nurses surveyed reported sub-optimal physical and mental health.

Nurses who had issues with their physical and mental health were 26 to 71 per cent more likely to make medical errors than nurses whose mental and physical health were good.

Of the “mental and physical health issues” that these nurses reported on, depression stood out as a major concern – and a key indicator of medical errors.

About a third said they had some degree of depression, anxiety or stress. Less than half said they had a good professional quality of life.

“When you’re not in optimal health, you’re not going to be on top of your game,” said lead author Bernadette Melnyk from The Ohio State University’s College of Nursing.

And self-reported medical errors were common. About half the nurses reported medical errors in the past five years.

She advised that upper management and hospital administrators “should build a culture of well-being and implement strategies to better support good physical and mental health in their employees. It’s good for nurses, and it’s good for their patients.”

The same study also found that if nurses found that their workplace to be a positive environment – for example, it was well organised, with supportive management, and the staff weren’t rushed for time and resources – they were more likely to report good health.

Burnout, compassion fatigue, depression and poor work-life balance affect a large percentage of nurses, health care workers. And without the right support, these physical and mental health issues can become unmanageable as they become long term.

According to Melnyk, this new research is the first large-scale national study to link nurses’ well-being to self-reported medical errors.

“Nurses do a great job of caring for other people, but they often don’t prioritize their own self-care,” she said.

“And their work lives are increasingly stressful – patients are sicker, hospitals are crunched financially and nurses are having to find ways to juggle patient care with all of their other assigned tasks, such as tending to the electronic medical record.”

While a survey that depends on ‘self-reported perceptions’ has its limitations, the fact that so many nurses said that they were aware of the mistakes they were making brings to light the need for more support for nurses and healthcare workers.  

“Health care systems and hospitals have to do a better job of creating wellness cultures for their clinicians,” she said.

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