Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Depression in nurses ‘increases likelihood of making errors’


Depression is “common” among nurses and linked to a higher likelihood that they will make clinical errors, according to a study carried out in the US.

Depression stood out as a major concern among the 1,790 US nurses who responded to a survey, and was the key predictor of errors, said researchers from Ohio State University’s College of Nursing.

“Nurses do a great job of caring for other people, but they often don’t prioritise their own self-care”

Bernadette Melnyk

Their study found that more than half of nurses who took part in a national survey reported sub-optimal physical and mental health.

In addition, it showed nurses in poorer health generally had a 26% to 71% higher likelihood of reporting clinical errors than their healthier peers.

The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, also found nurses who perceived their workplace as “conducive to wellness” were more likely to report good health.

The data came from a survey conducted by the American Academy of Nursing, which included 53 questions, and was distributed via nursing organisations and 20 US hospitals. Only responses from nurses who were in clinical practice were included in the study, noted the researchers.

“Hospitals have to do a better job of creating wellness cultures for their clinicians”

Bernadette Melnyk

The majority of participants were white women and the average age of participants was 44, which closely resembles the demographics of the overall US nursing workforce, they said.

It found 54% of respondents reported poor physical and mental health. About a third said they had some degree of depression, anxiety or stress.

Less than half said they had a good professional quality of life and self-reported practice errors were common. About half the nurses reported making errors in the past five years, said the researchers.

When they compared the wellness data to the error data, the study authors said they identified a “significant link” between poor health – particularly depression – and errors.

While a survey that depends on self-reported perceptions has its limitations, the evidence should prompt efforts to improve the mental and physical health of nurses and others, they said.

The new research is the first large-scale national study to link nurses’ well-being to self-reported practice errors, said lead author and dean of the nursing college Dr Bernadette Melnyk.

Ohio State University

Depression in nurses ‘increases likelihood of making errors’

Bernadette Melnyk

“When you’re not in optimal health, you’re not going to be on top of your game,” said Dr Melnyk, who is also the university’s chief wellness officer.

“Hospital administrators should build a culture of well-being and implement strategies to better support good physical and mental health in their employees,” she said. “It’s good for nurses, and it’s good for their patients.”

She added: “Nurses do a great job of caring for other people, but they often don’t prioritise their own self-care. And their work lives are increasingly stressful – patients are sicker, hospitals are crunched financially and nurses are having to find ways to juggle patient care with all of their other assigned tasks.”

Dr Melnyk suggested that limiting long shifts and providing easy-to-access, evidence-based resources for physical and mental health, including depression screenings, could go a long way toward improving nurses’ wellness.

“Healthcare systems and hospitals have to do a better job of creating wellness cultures for their clinicians,” she stated.


Readers' comments (5)

  • Wouldn't it be lovely if the NHS looked after its own staff who struggle with M/H issues related to the stresses of their jobs, instead of causing them more stress through threat of job loss through sickness policies clearly waited towards the health boards rather than the individuals.
    Its time the NHS looked after its own and realised the sheer mental health effort it takes many staff to even walk through the door every day.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Many hundreds of nurses are referred to NMC on false allegations or maliciously. Often these are nurses who have been referred have reported the ward/unit/care home to CQC, Safeguarding units/DoN or have repeatedly reported abuse or poor unacceptable standards of care to their manager.
    The nurse then goes through years yes YEARS of hell as they are professionally and personally destroyed by the NMC who seem to have no problem creating charges from nothing.
    Many eventually end u with No Care To Answer. By which time they are unemployed, financially ruined, families broken, marriages failed and the nurse is receiving treatment for severe depression, some attemt suicide and others succeed.
    Many accept a deal of accepting Conditions of Practice in return for a 'guilty' plea - regardless of whether they are guilty or not.
    Those who return to work are extremely stressed which again has a knock on effect on relationships.
    It is hardly suprising that errors are made, but how many are reported?
    How many report abuse poor standard knowing what could await them?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • This is absolutely true that some Matrons and manager in NHS instead of helping and supporting their nurses, they are putting more stress to nurses like me. I have been a nurse less than three years and they expected me to know everything and not allowed to make mistakes. It’s a shame because the NHS paid for my bursary to finish this profession and ending up discouraged due to the attitude of those in higher position. I hope there will be a change in managing people who has been referred to NMC because going through the process was very difficult and stressful. It’s time for the NHS to look after nurses because all of us will be needing nurses in the future.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I can't add anything useful to the discussion because I'm too depressed.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The NHS actually has a very generous sick leave scheme. Six months full pay? Referral to Occupational Health? Phased return to work? All available for those working in the NHS. I work in the private sector. No unsocial hours payments, apart from bank holidays. No pay for the first three days off sick, after that, it's six weeks full pay and six weeks half. Thereafter, statutory sick pay. Referral to OH is as rare as hens teeth. Phased return to work is unknown; I offered to return three weeks after carpal tunnel surgery provided I did not assist in clinical care (plenty of others available to do that) but was told, you're either fit to work or you're not. So welcome to the party, NHS.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.