Burnout Rates Rising Among Psychiatrists

Megan Brooks

February 19, 2022

The lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to take a toll on the happiness, well-being and lifestyles of many segments of the population, but especially those in the healthcare field, including psychiatrists.

The newly released Medscape Psychiatrist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2022 explores psychiatrists’ happiness in their personal and professional lives and how they are maintaining mental and physical health.

Prior to the global pandemic, 79% of psychiatrists said they were "very" or "somewhat" happy outside of work, like physicians overall (81%).

But as the pandemic has worn on, feelings have shifted, and there are clear signs of stress and strain on those in the healthcare field. 

Now, the percentage of psychiatrists who say they are currently "very" or "somewhat" happy outside of work has fallen to 62%, similar to physicians overall (59%).

Higher in Women

In last year's report, overall 42% of psychiatrists reported burnout; that's risen to 47% this year.

When it comes to burnout, psychiatrists are in the lower range of burned-out physicians. Perhaps not surprising, given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout rates are highest in emergency medicine and critical care specialists.

About half of psychiatrists (52%) reported that they were more burned out now than during the initial quarantine months of the pandemic, similar to physicians overall (55%). About one third said their burnout was the same.

Female psychiatrists reported being burned out at a greater rate than their male colleagues (46% vs 30%).

"There's no question that women have reported far more role strain during the pandemic than men," said Carol A. Bernstein, MD, psychiatrist at Montefiore Health System and professor and vice chair for faculty development and well-being at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City.

"Often women assumed more of the childcare and home schooling responsibilities in their households. As [a] result, we know that more women dropped out of the workforce. Also, past studies indicate that women are more likely to report feelings of burnout than men,” Bernstein noted.

The volume of bureaucratic tasks is the main contributor to psychiatrist burnout (69%), even more so than for physicians overall (60%).

Too many work hours, lack of respect from colleagues, lack of control or autonomy, and increasing use of electronic health records (EHRs) and other technology are also major drivers of burnout in this year's report.

To quell burnout, psychiatrists reduce their hours on the job and participate in meditation or other stress-reduction techniques.

Thirty-eight percent of psychiatrists feel that their personality type contributes to their burnout. Nearly seven in 10 psychiatrists say burnout affects their relationships, about the same proportion as for physicians overall (68%).

Work-Life Balance

More than half of psychiatrists (53%) report they are willing to take a cut in pay in order to achieve a better work-life balance or have more free time. This is similar among physicians overall (55%).

More than one third (39%) of psychiatrists reported clinical depression (severe depression lasting some time and not caused by grief), while 44% reported colloquial depression (feeling down, blue, sad).

About half of depressed psychiatrists said their depression does not have an impact on relationships with patients. Of those who saw an impact, the major behaviors they reported were being easily exasperated with patients and feeling less motivated to take patient notes carefully.

To maintain happiness and mental health, psychiatrists choose to spend time with loved ones, do the things they enjoy, exercise and get plenty of sleep.

Perhaps not surprisingly, more psychiatrists were happy with their work-life balance before the pandemic (68% vs 54%). The same holds for physicians overall.

Before the pandemic, 17% of psychiatrists reported being unhappy with their work-life balance. That has risen to 29% this year.

The vast majority of psychiatrists are currently in a committed relationship, with 76% either married or living with a partner. A somewhat higher percentage (83%) of physicians overall report being in a committed relationship.

About eight in 10 psychiatrists (81%) describe their marriage as good or very good — the same as last year.

A little more than half of psychiatrists have life partners who do not work in medicine. This is similar to the proportion among all physicians (56%).

Among psychiatrists balancing parenthood and a medical career, female psychiatrists noted feeling conflicted more often than their male counterparts (36% vs 22% were "very conflicted" or "conflicted").

This general attitude is reflected in almost all occupations, according to a Pew Research survey, which found that larger shares of mothers than fathers struggled with childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.

Findings from Medscape's latest happiness, wellness, and lifestyle survey are based on 13,069 Medscape member physicians (61% male) practicing in the United States who completed an online survey conducted between June 29 and September 26, 2021. Most respondents were between 35 and 64 years old.

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