Many CHWs Have Burnout and Mental Health Issues

Community-based health workers are more likely to have problems with depression and mental health issues than the other members of their health care team, a study of community-based health workers people in Brazil suggests.

These workers have higher levels of “burnout syndrome”: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment, the study found. They were also more likely to have other common mental disorders. Here are highlights from the study:

Burnout & Mental Disorders in CHWs

This is an important wakeup call for people who employ and rely on community health workers to address the needs of communities. Their job puts them in front of people coping with difficult situations, and it requires them to share empathy. The true irony is CHWs successfully help people with behavioral health disorders. Talance offers three courses dealing with behavioral health targeted at people who work in communities: Behavioral Health Care, Substance Abuse and Depression, Anxiety and Stress: Helping Others To Cope.

But how often are we caring for the people who care for us?

The study looked at “family health teams” who work directly with disadvantage people in communities. The teams are made of one doctor, one nurse, one or two nursing assistants or technicians and four to six agentes comunitários de saúde, or community health workers (CHWs). Among all the people on the family health teams, the community health workers were much more likely to have burnout syndrome and common mental disorders.

Why CHWs Are Overloaded

The CHWs are unique because they are the link between the rest of the health care team and the community, providing a bridge between scientific and popular knowledge. They are the team members who live and work in the communities where they serve, so they are the most likely to see and understand the consequences of conditions, causing additional pressure and overload.

“The health professionals are among the most affected because they generally have a humanistic work philosophy and face a dehumanized health system,” say the study authors Andréa Tenório Correia da SilvaI and Paulo Rossi MenezesII.

The stress of these working conditions takes its toll on the individual CHWs and the communities where they serve. People with burnout have difficulty continuing to work, are less productive, quit more often, use more health services, and tend to abuse tranquilizers, alcohol and other drugs.

Time To Address Mental Health Needs

The study recommends more studies into the mental health of CHWs, but even in the short term there’s more we can do.

  • Make sure CHWs are aware of the risks and encourage them to take care of their own mental health.
  • Supervisors and other health care team members can pay close attention to their coworkers and look out for signs of burnout or other mental strain.
  • Improve the quality of working conditions and open up services for stress and depression for employees, not just community members.
  • Provide training on how to deal with behavioral health issues, not only among clients but for themselves.

If you work with community health workers, take a moment to stop and think about their mental health. What have you noticed? How do you address it? You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page

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