Across the country, nurses and health care workers are experiencing a silent mental health crisis. Short staffing, punishing workloads, widespread violence – these are everyday realities contributing to the stress and trauma health workers are suffering.
Aiming to give voice to this silent crisis, the CFNU conducted a fist-of-its-kind national study, Mental Disorder Symptoms Among Nurses in Canada. According to the study, nurses experience widespread and severe symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, burnout, and suicidal behaviour. Nurses’ rates of mental disorder are higher than for the general population and often higher than for public safety personnel such as firefighters and paramedics. The top source of extreme stress reported by nurses was short staffing and physical assault was the most frequently reported type of traumatic event, with nearly half of nurses reporting exposure to physical assault 11 or more times.
Many measures to support frontline workers and first responders continue to exclude the female-dominated health workforce, while covering male-dominated professions such as police and firefighters. When nurses were initially excluded from Bill C-211, An Act to establish a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the CFNU lobbied hard for two years to fix this error. In response, the Senate Committee on National Security issued a recommendation to the Health Minister to include nurses in the implementation of Bill C-211.
Despite this minor victory, it’s time for a wake-up call. Our dedicated health care workers urgently need better mental health supports, and should never be excluded from presumptive PTSD legislation or any measures supporting the mental health of public safety personnel or first responders.
To address the root causes of this mental health crisis, we will need to fix the long-standing issues that make our health care system unsafe for everyone, including chronic short-staffing and pervasive violence.