Burnout in Mental Health Professionals | Banyan Mental Health
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Burnout in Mental Health Professionals

 

A severe and lasting effect of the pandemic has been the emotional toll it’s taken on behavioral health specialists. Many were unprepared to be the pillars of strength through a global pandemic, yet when COVID-19 shook the world, our behavioral health technicians answered the call to action. Unfortunately, many are now paying the price. What happens when the psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and social workers we rely on for mental health care go through burnout themselves? Here we’ll review the causes, signs, and ways to prevent burnout in mental health professionals.  


Rates of Burnout in Mental Health Professionals 

The rates of burnout in mental health professionals have increased in recent years. Across several studies, it’s been found that 21% to 67% of mental health workers have experienced high levels of burnout.1  

In a study of 151 community mental health employees in Northern California, 54% were found to have experienced high emotional exhaustion, and 38% reported high depersonalization rates. However, most of these employees also reported high levels of personal accomplishment. 

 Furthermore, in another survey of 751 respondents, 36% scored in the high range of emotional exhaustion. 18% of the sample also endorsed the statement, “I currently have problems with burnout”.

Outside of the U.S., specifically in the U.K., a survey of 71 forensic mental health workers found that 54% reported high rates of emotional exhaustion. Before this study, another reported a range of 21% to 48% of general mental health workers as having high emotional exhaustion. 

All this is to say that mental health worker burnout is common in various regions around the world, not just in the U.S. But what causes burnout, and what are some ways we can catch and prevent it? 


Causes of Burnout in Mental Health Professionals 

Burnout is the result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion and stress. It occurs when a person feels emotionally and physically drained and unable to keep up with life’s constant demands.  

Every professional and their loved ones should be aware of the potential for burnout. Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling overwhelmed or “swamped.” Burnout can occur in various situations, such as at work, home, and school.  

Under stressful work conditions, counselors using poor coping skills may become discouraged, irritated, frustrated, and confused, which can greatly impact their work performance and their patients. There are multiple stages of burnout, including enthusiasm (a tendency to be overly available), stagnation (when personal discontent begins to surface), frustration (they become less bored, tolerant, and sympathetic), and apathy (depression and listlessness).  

Common causes of burnout in therapists, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health workers include:  

  • Current political, social, and pandemic-related stressors 
  • Difficulty detaching from clients’ issues and concerns 
  • Secondary trauma (emotional duress caused by hearing of the firsthand traumatic experiences of others)  
  • Exposure to aggressive, depressed, and/or suicidal clients 
  • Emotional fatigue 
  • Long work hours with few breaks 
  • Prioritizing the needs of others over their own 
  • Being on call 
  • Administrative task build-up 
  • Client emergencies and crises 
  • Slow progress with certain clients

While there are many causes of burnout, one of the most common is work. Unfortunately, many therapists and mental health specialists attempt to cope with burnout by ignoring it, which can further impact their work performance. This can create a stressful cycle that may only lead to further distress.  

It’s important to remember that mental health specialists need help, too. Our residential mental health program in Boca can help you or a loved one cope with burnout and other psychological struggles. With a team of experienced specialists, you’ll be working with professionals who understand what you’re going through.   


Signs of Burnout in Mental Health Professionals 

A red flag of therapist burnout is when the individual begins to dread client sessions, finds reasons to cancel, shows up late to sessions, or begins to daydream during sessions with professionals.  

Other common signs of mental health counselor burnout include:  

  • Decreased empathy 
  • Becoming more negative and critical of their work 
  • Canceling appointments or showing up late 
  • Dreading showing up for work  
  • Daydreaming or feelings distracted when working with patients 
  • Feeling emotionally drained or overwhelmed 
  • An overall sense of disconnection 
  • Self-medicating or numbing burnout with alcohol or other behaviors 
  • Feeling mentally distanced from one’s career 
  • Increased feelings of negativity, cynicism, or loss of purpose related to their job 
  • Reduced work performance 
  • Trouble sleeping  
  • Worry or anxiety 
  • Problems at home with loved ones 

Preventing Burnout in Mental Health Professionals  

Burnout can be tough to cope with, but fortunately, there are plenty of ways to prevent it from happening. Below are some strategies that can help prevent mental health burnout: 

  • Practice physical self-care: This includes drinking enough water, getting up and moving around, going for walks on your breaks, taking breaks while working, taking time to breathe, and making sleep a priority.  
  • Practice emotional self-care: Therapists know better than anyone the importance of self-care for the mind, which is why we encourage you to nurture and care for your mind the same way you direct your patients to.  
  • Leave work at work: Mental health specialists need to create healthy boundaries between work and home life. Although you might want to do everything you can for your clients, end your workday with your last appointment. If you work in an office or at home, try leaving the room, setting a timer, and shutting down everything when you’re done working for the day. 
  • Take lunch breaks: Not only are what you eat and eating itself important, but enjoying your lunch break can do wonders for your mental health. So, the next time you sit down for a lunch break, take your time chewing and savoring your food and the time to rest.  
  • Connect with peers for support: Being a mental health professional can be isolating and stressful, so you need to be part of professional organizations and peer support groups where you can connect with others.  
  • Make time for loved ones: A major aspect of burnout is neglecting loved ones, which can (understandably) take a toll on your relationships. Make sure to make time for loved ones every week.   
  • Set boundaries with clients: Therapists need to have policies in place, so clients know what to expect during and outside of sessions. Things like communication, scheduling, cancellation policies, and response time should all be discussed with patients before their treatment begins.  

Mental Health and Burnout Help  

Mental health specialists need just as much support as their patients. Whether you need counseling and support for burnout or treatment for a mental illness, our mental illness treatment in Boca can help. Banyan Mental Health offers treatment for depression, anxiety, OCD, and more.  

Call us today at 888-280-4763 for more information about our services and how to get started.  

 

Sources:  
  1. NIH - Burnout in Mental Health Services: A Review of the Problem and Its Remediation 
  2. NIH - Burnout and leadership in community mental health systems 
  3. NIH - A survey of burnout among mental health center directors in a rural state 
  4. Taylor & Francis Online - Personal and Occupational Factors in Burnout Among Practicing Social Workers 
  5. Emerald Insight - Assessing burnout and occupational stressors in a medium secure service 


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Alyssa
Alyssa
Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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