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”
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”
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.
Depression in nurses ‘increases likelihood of making errors’
“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.