Story at a glance
- A report by All Points North found a growing number of physicians are turning to alcohol and drugs while working.
- Over the last three months, 1 in 7 physicians admitted to consuming alcohol or controlled substances at work.
- At the same time, 1 in 5 health care workers said they chose to check into rehab or a detox facility in the last three months.
Doctors have been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic for more than two years — and the pressure has taken its toll. A new report found a rising number of physicians are suffering from substance abuse, with some even showing up to work drunk or high.
At the same time, the U.S. has been experiencing a growing mental health crisis, with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warning last year that anxiety and depression levels rose during the pandemic — and were already climbing before COVID-19 arrived.
For example, around 1.5 million U.S. children experienced depression or anxiety during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, a 26 percent jump for children aged 3 to 17 between 2016 and 2020.
Now the crisis is becoming evident within the country’s health care industry, with 40 percent of health care workers indicating they felt anxiety or dread about going to work. Nearly half, 49 percent, also said they are either at their breaking point or looking for a new job due to the stress and trauma they endured while working in healthcare.
That’s from a report produced by All Points North (APN), a mental health company, that interviewed 1,000 U.S. health care workers aged 22 and older. Noah Nordheimer, founder and CEO of APN, said the results indicated an industry, “that’s been slow to respond to the growing demand for behavioral health services and often treating mental health as secondary to physical health.”
Even more alarming, APN found that over the last three months, 1 in 7 physicians admitted to consuming alcohol or controlled substances at work — and more than 1 in 5 said they consumed alcohol or controlled substances multiple times per day.
However, 1 in 5 health care workers said they have checked into rehab or a detox facility in the last three months.
APN noted that there are serious barriers to seeking help, with nearly 1 in 3 health care workers indicating they are too overworked and don’t have time, 23 percent are concerned colleagues and family will judge them, and another 23 percent said they’re afraid of getting their medical license revoked.
Men were also found to be struggling with mental health stigma more than women, with 58 percent of male health care workers reporting they are “at their breaking point or looking for a new job due to stress, burnout and trauma” they experienced on the job.
Men were also found to be 4.5 times more likely to consume alcohol or controlled substances while at work than women and 2.5 times more likely to consume alcohol or controlled substances up to 12 hours before their shift.
The bottom line: The country’s mental health crisis will continue if the necessary access and tools are not destigmatized as appropriate mental health treatment.
“We must act now, not only to support those in the healthcare system, but the country as a whole, before it’s too late,” said Nordheimer.
The risks could not be greater, as Murthy noted in an advisory specifically addressing health worker burnout, patient care and safety could be jeopardized through increased medical errors, hospital-acquired infections among patients and staffing shortages.
Murthy said annual burnout-related turnover costs are $9 billion for nurses and ranges from $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion for physicians.