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Digital Mental Health Solutions Can Help Alleviate Healthcare Worker Burnout | SilverCloud Health

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    June 16, 2021

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    digital mental health, healthcare workers, space from covid

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Burnout_Web_BlogThe COVID pandemic has hit all parts of society hard, but none more so than frontline healthcare workers, dramatically impacting on their mental health and wellbeing.

NHS Charities Together recently published research, conducted by leading polling company YouGov, that showed the pandemic is having a significant impact on the mental health of NHS staff. Just over half the healthcare workers surveyed reported that their mental health has declined since the start of the pandemic, with over two-thirds of these (67%) reporting anxiety and a third (35%) reporting depression.

These doctors, nurses, midwives and other clinicians attributed the greatest impact on their mental health to not being able to see friends and family (61%); not being able to make plans for the future (31%); concern about passing on COVID to someone close to them (31%); worrying about their increased risks of catching and being seriously affected by COVID-19 (24%), and seeing the impact of COVID-19 on patients and their families (23%).

These mental health impacts are pushing burnout rates amongst clinicians higher and higher, with significant numbers of healthcare workers saying they are considering leaving the sector altogether. In a separate survey, YouGov research among 1,009 NHS workers shows that one in eleven (9%) are considering leaving the sector – including 12% of nurses and midwives. The biggest driver behind this change is a desire for a better work-life balance (38%), while 30% of respondents directly cited mental health reasons as playing a part in their decision to potentially move on from the sector.

In the face of these challenges, we wanted to explore in this article the role that digital mental health platforms can play in helping to address clinician burnout.

Understanding healthcare worker burnout

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines healthcare worker burnout as a ‘syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. According to the WHO, it has three dimensions:

  • emotional exhaustion,
  • depersonalisation, and
  • reduced professional accomplishment.

It is clear from recent data published by The Independent that these burnout issues are having an impact on staff sickness and absence rates. It highlighted for the wellbeing of thousands of NHS doctors and nurses who are suffering from burnout during the coronavirus pandemic, with mental health conditions accounting for up to 20 per cent of absences at leading hospitals.

Alongside this, the British Medical Association, said that the use of its mental health helpline has risen by 80 per cent since September 2020. As the second wave of the COVID pandemic was hitting, Dr David Wrigley, BMA deputy chair and wellbeing lead, told The Independent: "As we enter the second phase, doctors are already exhausted as they have had no time to recover from the first phase. The job was already exhausting and stressful in non-COVID times, but this has really hit us hard.”

Five ways that digital mental health solutions could help to reduce burnout

In the US, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have set out a number of goals that organisations can try to achieve which could support healthcare workers and help them improve their wellbeing. These goals were:

  • Creating positive work environments
  • Addressing burnout in training and at early career stages
  • Reducing tasks that do not improve patient care
  • Improving usability and relevance of health information technology
  • Reducing stigma and improving recovery services

At SilverCloud, we believe that digital mental health solutions have a crucial role to play in helping organisations to achieve these goals.

We see five possible ways in which digital health solutions can help.

  1. Digital health solutions can help build positive working environments. In a survey by Aetna International, which included the UK, 61% of employees indicated their employer could help them improve how they manage their health through greater use of workplace technology, such as digital mental health platforms. The vast majority of SilverCloud users (up to 85%) report an improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms, which contributes to improved workplace satisfaction.

  2. Digital health solutions can help to prevent burnout during training and at the early stages of healthcare careers. Healthcare workers, such as doctors, nurses and midwives who are still in training, are operating as both learners and healthcare providers at the same time. A recent US-based study showed that those in training who were exposed to patients with COVID-19 experienced more burnout (3% vs. 33.7%) than those trainees who were not. Trainees who have access to digital health platforms can get critically important help in reducing their stress levels.

  3. Digital health solutions can help to reduce tasks that don’t improve care for patients. There is evidence, published in 2019, that shows that poorly designed workplace processes and systems can lead to clinician burnout. Instead of continuing to follow these often-inefficient processes, if doctors, nurses, midwives and other clinicians were given time during their working day for mental health checks, it could lead to significant improvements.


  4. Digital health solutions can help improve the use of health information. Introducing digital health platforms can be done easily and seamlessly, helping clinicians make better use of technology. One academic clinic saw a 45% reduction in clinician burnout when they implemented an efficient digital healthcare system. Easy-to-use digital mental health platforms like SilverCloud, which are available 24/7 and on the devices of clinicians, can be built into the day-to-day activities of doctors, nurses, midwives and other clinicians without impacting on efficiency and creating new work.

  5. Digital health solutions reduce stigma. In a joint Mind and British Medical Association publication said that stigma is not a new barrier facing NHS staff and that NHS staff have always worked in a pressurised, high expectation environment that also create cultures where mental health problems are seen as a sign of weakness, linked to letting colleagues and patients down. However, they highlighted that the issue of stigma has been compounded during COVID by something they called the ‘hero narrative’. They say this language, although intended to communicate the value and esteem with which healthcare professionals are held, may have unintentionally added to the pressure individuals have felt, possibly putting their mental health at risk. Providing these workers with 24/7, confidential access to digital mental health services can help them make time for their own health.

Building digital health into healthcare workers day-to-day activities

Digital mental health solutions, like those provided by SilverCloud Health, should be integrated into healthcare worker day-to-day activities and be part of their roles. This would enable quick and easy access to the tools they need to manage their mental health and help to prevent burnout by identifying their needs at an earlier stage.

Promoting early interventions to spot the signs of, for example, stress, anxiety and depression, and supporting healthcare workers to take action before these issues become more serious, can make a huge difference to sickness rates, absence and recovery rates from mental health conditions. Healthier frontline health workers are better placed to support their colleagues and patients.

After using the SilverCloud digital platform, 85% of users show improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms, while 65% of users experience clinically significant improvement.

SilverCloud Health was established as a result of a collaboration between Trinity College Dublin and Mater University Hospital and is rooted in 18 years of research that proves it works. It is trusted by over 300 employers, including across the NHS, covering tens of millions of employees’ lives to help meet their mental health needs. SilverCloud Health is the world’s leading digital mental health company enabling organisations to deliver our clinically validated on-demand programmes that improve outcomes and increase access for their employees, including those in key healthcare roles.

Those who have invested in SilverCloud are getting 24/7, on-demand, convenient and confidential support for their colleagues, both to proactively stay well and to recover when things go wrong. The feedback they provide has one over-riding message: SilverCloud programmes work.

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