AN ECU psychology researcher has found up to 70 per cent of WA Mental Health professionals are burning out during their career.
PhD student Marieke Ledingham is investigating the prevalence, symptoms and causes of burnout in WA mental health professionals.
She surveyed 56 professionals in the field of which around 70 per cent said they had experienced burnout at some stage in their career.
“Typically burnout is a result of work demands rather than other situational factors,” she said.
“Burnout is a condition and it is different to stress in that you cannot recover from burning-out simply by taking a holiday.”
Ledingham says that burnout can cause emotional exhaustion, detachment and low self esteem.
She says that the results are particularly worrying as it can lead to depression in some cases and can compromise effectiveness at work.
“Eighteen per cent suffered from psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and reduced cognitive abilities such as decision-making after burnout set in.”
Almost 10 per cent of professionals surveyed did not recognise that they were suffering from burnout until the condition was so severe they were unable to work.
Cases of burnout have been seen across the mental health field, including in occupational therapists, psychologists, counsellors and social workers.
Mental health nurses, however, are suffering the worst. Ledingham says that this partly due to staff shortages and recent funding cuts.
“The demand on the mental health field is increasing and this is exacerbating the problem,” she says.
Seventy-eight pre cent of professionals surveyed said that staff shortages and an ever-increasing workload are largely to blame.
“Half of respondents said that employers were not aware of the prevalence of burnouts and just minimised the problem,” she says.
But Ledingham says that the biggest barrier to sufferers seeking help is stigma.
“Most workplaces provide some clinical supervision and employee assistance programs such as counselling, however the uptake of these are fairly low.”
“Often the policies were in place, but the attitudes towards burnout and self-care meant that these were not followed through.”
Ledingham says that to address the negative stigma a “top down” approach is needed, where managers prioritise burnout as an occupational health and safety issue.
“Management needs to lead by example, by accessing clinical supervision themselves. Hiding the symptoms of burnout is just exacerbating the problem.”
Ledingham says that a shift in workplace culture is needed to encourage workers to seek help.