Nurses suffering from depression more likely to make errors

This article looks at how stressful hospital environments may be causing medical errors by nurses.

To most people, it would seem like common sense to say that they are better at their jobs when they feel in peak mental and physical health. Yet in many hospitals, nurses and other medical staff are routinely put through long hours, stressful situations, and given few breaks with little consideration as to how such a high-pressure work environment affects their job performance. Now a study by the Ohio State University has found that hospital errors are much more likely to happen when nurses report suffering from anxiety, stress, and depression.

Mental health and nurses' medical errors

The study surveyed 1,760 U.S. nurses and found that 54 percent reported being in either poor physical or mental health. Less than half of the respondents said they enjoyed a positive professional quality of life and about a third said they were suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression.

Most alarmingly, those poor health indicators among nurses had a strong impact on their likelihood to commit a medical error. Overall, half of the respondents admitted to having made a medical error within the past five years. However, those suffering from mental health problems, especially depression, were 26 to 71 percent likelier to commit a medical error than their healthier counterparts.

Changing the hospital work environment

The study sheds an important light on how healthcare work environments can have a serious impact on patient safety. As Health Leaders Media reports, a previous study had already found that depression is twice as high among nurses as it is in other professions. Furthermore, in healthcare workplaces burnout and other mental health problems are all too often seen as a problem with individual nurses themselves rather than with the workplace environment overall. That rather dated attitude towards mental health - ironically in a hospital of all places - not only endangers nurses but ultimately patients as well.

Hospitals can help address the problem in a number of ways, such as by limiting the number of hours nurses are allowed to work in a single shift and ending the workplace culture that blames nurses and not the hospital itself for their burnout. For example, hospitals could make mental health resources more easily available to nurses, such as providing regular depression screenings and advice on how to receive support and counselling if needed.

Medical malpractice law

Patients deserve to feel safe and protected when they enter a hospital, but unfortunately in some cases it is the hospital itself that makes a mistake that ultimately harms a patient. Anybody who may have been the victim of a medical professional's alleged negligence or reckless behavior shoul d contact a medical malpractice attorney today. An experienced attorney can show clients what legal options they have and how they may be able to pursue compensation to help alleviate their ordeal.