CM: Job Burnout: Why We Need Equitable Access to Mental Health Services
By Sydney Sheloff
“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress” (CAMH, n.d.). While burnout is often associated with work, it is exacerbated by compounding stresses in all aspects of one’s life. Burnout has always existed, but it has been heightened by the pandemic. Work responsibilities have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, but individuals and families have also had to deal with the stress of school and child care closures, fears surrounding the virus, increases in the cost of living, and many more stresses. All these factors compound and may lead people to feel helpless, emotionally drained, and unable to function. If not taken care of, burnout can morph into more serious mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression (CAMH, n.d.).
Incidents of burnout vary greatly source-to-source, and as such we do not have reliable numbers on this phenomenon. This variation likely comes from the different ways in which different studies define and measure burnout. A study by Mental Health Research Canada found 35% of Canadians are experiencing burnout at work (MHRC, 2021). Another found that 47% of Canadian workers feel exhausted on a typical workday. Yet another study found 84% of workers at Canadian organizations with 100 or more employees are suffering from career burnout, and 34% of those workers report high or extreme levels (Moore, 2022). While the numbers themselves vary considerably, they all show that burnout is prevalent in Canadian workplaces.
Burnout in different sectors
Experiences of burnout varies by occupation. Folks working on the frontlines during the pandemic face considerable stress. They are dealing with the pandemic head-on as they care for patients with COVID, while dealing with staffing and hospital bed shortages. According to Mental Health Research Canada (2021), 53% of people working in health and patient care, and 66% of nurses reported experiencing burnout. Almost a fifth (17.9%) of health care workers intend to leave their job within the next three years, 63.2% of those workers want to leave due to stress or burnout (Statistics Canada, 2022). Many folks in other caring positions struggle with burnout as well. For example, 38% of people working in education and child care reported experiencing burnout (MHRC, 2021). Teachers had to quickly adapt to teaching children online with little training, and child care workers have faced precarity in the face of centre closures. Women are overrepresented in these roles, making them more vulnerable to all these issues (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2022).
Parents working from home had to work a full day while simultaneously supporting their children in online learning. Women have had to take on more of the responsibility to manage this situation during the pandemic. In a 2022 poll, almost half (48%) of mothers stated they were at their ‘breaking point’ (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2022). In addition, having work and home in the same space blurred the boundaries between work and home life, with many people unable to “turn off” and relax at the end of the day. While reasons for and experiences of burnout vary from occupation to occupation, and situation to situation, this is an issue prevalent for almost everyone.
Burnout by demographics
Burnout also varies by demographics, with marginalized communities more likely to experience burnout. 41% of Black Canadians and 37% of South Asians reported experiencing burnout, compared to 17% of non-visible minorities (MHRC, 2021). Black and South Asian peoples were more likely to be working in ‘essential’ occupations such as nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates (Turcotte and Savage, 2020). At the same time, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) must also contend with discrimination, feeling invalidated at work, and a pressure to do more than their coworkers (Washington, 2022). In other words, BIPOC folks working in healthcare are deemed “essential” yet continue to be treated as less-than, which has large impacts on their mental health.
Impacts of Burnout
Burnout has significant impacts on an individual’s work. People experiencing burnout feel dissatisfied with their jobs and achievements and miss more work (Salvagioni et al. 2017). They may face a lack of motivation and find it difficult to get tasks done, which impacts their effectiveness on the job (CAMH, n.d.). In more serious cases, affected individuals may want to leave work altogether. However, the impacts of burnout are not isolated to work, but reach into every facet of the lives of those effected.
53% of Canadians report they are unable to reasonably balance the demands of work and personal life (MHRC). In other words, Canadians are overwhelmed with the number of responsibilities they have. They may not have the time or energy to devote to their home and family lives. Being emotionally drained is a symptom of burnout (CAMH, n.d.), so this may mean that people have a hard time connecting with loved ones and relationships can get strained. Furthermore, people simply do not have the time or energy to engage in the activities that bring them joy.
A meta-analysis of studies about burnout found that burnout was a predicator of many physical and mental health conditions. Physical health conditions included type 2 diabetes, heart disease, prolonged fatigue, and gastrointestinal issues. Mental conditions included insomnia, depressive symptoms, and hospitalizations for mental disorders (Salvagioni et. Al. 2017). Burnout is literally making us sick.
A Lack of Support
Often, solutions for burnout focus on individual level self-care techniques. People experiencing burnout are told to socialize more, exercise, eat healthy foods, engage in relaxing activities, and disconnect after work (CAMH, n.d.., Dene, 2022). However, it isn’t that simple. In modern ‘hustle’ culture, taking time for oneself can make people feel worse, as they’ve been conditioned to think they should be productive all the time (Healthline, 2022). Some professions, such as nurses, work long, demanding hours and do not have the time or flexibility to engage in self-care activities. Encouraging people to take care of their own mental health downloads more responsibility onto already overworked people. What is truly needed is accessible and affordable mental health care.
Edmontonians face several barriers to accessing mental health care. A survey from the Canadian Mental Health Association found that almost a quarter (23%) of Albertans needed help for problems with their emotions, mental health, or substance use, but did not receive it. Of those who did not receive help, 47% did not know where or how to access help, 54% could not afford it, and 26% reported their insurance would not cover it. Canadian workplaces are both creating the conditions that produce burnout, and not giving employees the resources, they need to deal with it. All Canadians, regardless of their employment status, should have access to robust mental health care. Perhaps it is time we consider folding mental health care into the universal health care system.
Note: This is an excerpt from our December 2022 Community Matters, you can read the full publication here
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Canadian Women’s Foundation (2022). The facts: Women and pandemics. https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/women-and-pandemics/
Center for addiction and mental health (CAMH) (n.d.). Career Burnout. https://www.camh.ca/en/camh-news-and-stories/career-burnout
Canadian Mental Health Association (2022). Summary of Findings Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19: Round 4. https://cmha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Key-findings-summary-UBC-round-4-Final.pdf
Environics Institutes (2021). Making up time: the impact of the pandemic on young adults in Canada.
Healthline (2022). For Many People with Anxiety, Self-Care Just Doesn’t Work. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/self-care-is-hard#1
Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) (2021). Psychological Health & Safety in Canadian Workplaces
Moore, Dene. (2022). Worker burnout is becoming endemic and it’s everyone’s job to treat it. The Globe and Mail. Worker burnout is becoming endemic and it’s everyone’s job to treat it – The Globe and Mail
Salvagioni, D., Melanda, F. N., Mesas, A. E., González, A. D., Gabani, F. L., & Andrade, S. M. (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PloS one, 12(10), e0185781. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185781
Statistics Canada (2022). Experiences of health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, September to November 2021. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220603/dq220603a-eng.htm
Turcotte and Savage (2020). The contribution of immigrants and population groups designated as visible minorities to nurse aide, orderly and patient service associate occupations. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2020001/article/00036-eng.htm
Washington, K. (2022). Why BIPOC Employees Are Burning Out—and What People Leaders Can Do About It. Spring Health. https://springhealth.com/blog/help-bipoc-employees-reduce-burnout/