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Mental health workers are burning out

Thursday, 23 August 2012


Mental health professionals in WA are highly susceptible to burnout, with more than 70 per cent suffering from the condition at some point during their career.

Edith Cowan University (ECU) Lecturer and PhD candidate Ms Marieke Ledingham investigated the stigma associated with burnout within the mental health sector and how professionals felt about the support on offer to help them deal with the debilitating condition.

‘Burnout’ is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by a lengthy exposure to stress, which can cause a detachment from the patient. This can result in a deterioration of patient/client treatment and care.

Ms Ledingham’s research found that many professionals were aware of burnout within the mental health sector, yet did not verbalise their concerns.

“The stigma attached to burnout is no different to the one attached to mental illness more widely. The doctors, nurses, social workers and other professionals within the mental health sector are they themselves suffering in silence” Ms Ledingham said.

 “To admit to suffering from burnout was seen as an admission of negligence and weakness. They did not want to be seen as incompetent and not coping.

“I found that whilst these health professionals were aware of burnout and the associated risk to patient care, many saw it as an individual’s problem rather than something contributed to by the workplace.

“However the research suggests that organisational issues are more predictive of burnout than individual factors.”

 Results from the study found:

  • 90% of respondents said they would blame themselves if they were to burnout;
  • 81% said burnout was not seen as seriously as other occupational health and safety hazards;
  • 63% of all responses indicated that their organisation had a lack of awareness and understanding about burnout and work stress;
  • 78% felt that high workload combined with insufficient staffing was the biggest contributor to burnout; and
  • 58% believed that having their manager’s explicit support and encouragement would help them to avoid burnout.

Ms Ledingham has begun looking at organisations in the community and how they can best support their staff to avoid burnout at a time when resources are increasingly stretched.

“Raising the awareness of burnout and providing managers with the correct tools to help their staff will hopefully make a significant difference to our mental health workforce,” Ms Ledingham said.

Ms Ledingham will be presenting her work as part of the Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT) during ECU’s Research Week. For further information on Research Week, visit: 


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