Sophie Henry

Mental health care providers are dedicated to improving the well-being of their patients, but can this work cause them to burn out?

Yale researchers sought to understand levels of job burnout among mental health staff. In a study published in the Community Mental Health Journal on Oct. 5, they examined the mental health states of staffers working at the Connecticut Veterans Affairs Errera Community Care Center, or ECCC. The researchers found that among this group, feelings of accomplishment can coexist with negative experiences of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

“Anecdotally, people would say they were stressed, and we were concerned with what that really means,” said author Anne Klee, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. “We really did this as a quality improvement study. We wanted to think about ways to intervene in and improve their working experience if we could.”

Burnout among health care providers can have detrimental effects on staff and patients, according to first author Jack Tsai, who holds a dual appointment with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Central Office and the School of Medicine. When health care workers become burnt out, it can impact the effectiveness and efficiency with which they provide care, said Tsai.

“Burnout among health professionals seems to be increasingly an issue that a lot of hospitals and healthcare institutions are paying attention to,” Tsai said.

The researchers surveyed 42 staff members at the ECCC and measured burnout based on three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment. Though staff reported moderate emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, they said they had a high sense of personal accomplishment.

Compared to other service workers, the ECCC staff had overall lower burnout scores. Though the reason is unclear, Tsai speculated that the staff might be more resilient to the adversities faced by the veterans they treat.

Another conclusion of the survey was that younger staff tend to demonstrate higher burnout levels.

“It caused us to pause and think about what we can do for younger, newer staff,” said Klee. “What can we do to prevent burnout among them?”

Senior author Debbie Deegan, who is the director of the ECCC, said the Veterans Affairs is committed to combating burnout among its staff. The ECCC recently started providing opportunities for its staff to practice mindfulness. These include optional retreats, training sessions and a new wellness committee.

The ECCC was also awarded a grant for three months of staff yoga sessions after work hours.

“The VA in general is really invested in their employees,” said Deegan. “Right now they’re doing a lot of employee engagement, listening to employees, and providing opportunities like a half-day retreat.”

The Errera Community Care Center is located in West Haven.

Marisol Carty | marisol.carty@yale.edu