12 causes of psych nurse practitioner burnout

psych nurse practitioner burnout

Shout out to all the psych nurse practitioners who are feeling burned-out!

I am not a mental health nurse practitioner, but as The Burned-out Nurse Practitioner, I have talked with hundreds of nurse practitioners who are struggling with burnout.

And let me tell you, psych nurse practitioner burnout is high!

So many mental health nurse practitioners struggle with burnout for a variety of reasons (read article below). Some of these causative agents of burnout are the same factors other APRNs experience, but some are specific to psych nurse practitioners. (After you read this article, then check out 7 ways to overcome mental health nurse practitioner burnout).

Psych nurse practitioner burnout

Mental health nurse practitioners (and all psych providers in general) hold a special spot in my heart. I definitely would not be able to do what a psych nurse practitioner does! The work you do does not go unnoticed.

I have a close friend who is a licensed mental health practitioner and has experienced burnout herself. I have seen first hand the hardships mental health providers experience and the industry specific factors that cause psych nurse practitioner burnout. I wrote this article to reach all of the psych nurse practitioners who are struggling with burnout. Know you are not alone!

Causes of psych nurse practitioner burnout

This article will focus on psych nurse practitioner burnout and identify some of the causative agents specific to the mental health field. Comment below to add to the list!

Shortage of psych nurse practitioners.

I practice in primary care and when referring to a mental health provider, I experience several challenges. The closest  psych nurse practitioner is over an hour away from my practice. It is also a minimum of a six week wait before getting an appointment. I know this is similar for many other areas.

The shortage of mental health providers and the growing demand for mental health services creates an increased workload on those currently practicing. Psych nurse practitioners may work long hours, which can lead to physical, mental, emotional exhaustion. And ultimately lead to psych nurse practitioner burnout.

Trauma exposure.

Psych nurse practitioners are often exposed to traumatic events and stories. Their patients feel safe describing traumatic events, (which is a good thing!) but can create a negative impact on the mental health provider.

The continued exposure to trauma can lead to second victim syndrome and compassion fatigue. I have taken care of patients who have experienced traumatic events and have been emotionally affected by it. I can’t imagine hearing about these traumatic stories all day, every day. 

Unhealed trauma.

Many healthcare providers (and people in general) have experienced their own kinds of trauma. Whether experiencing trauma as a child, being involved in a negative personal relationship, or experiencing a toxic-work environment, there are many traumatic events that happen.

But when we do not process this trauma, it can lead to nurse practitioner burnout. And as noted above, psych nurse practitioners are exposed to a lot of trauma. If they do not work on processing the trauma, it can lead to psych nurse practitioner burnout. 

Lack of work-life balance.

One of the risk factors of psych nurse practitioner burnout is a lack of work-life balance. Many nurse practitioners in general are pushed to see more patients, sicker patients in a short amount of time. When there is not enough time in the day to finish charting, the work carries over into “off” hours.

Many nurse practitioners stay late at the office or bring charts home just trying to catch up. And psych nurse practitioners are no different. Many experience a lack of work-life balance which creates significant risk for psych nurse practitioner burnout. 

Complex patients.

Mental health patients often have complex medical conditions with multiple medications prescribed. It takes more time to assess medication interactions and possible side effects. It takes more energy to assess, diagnose, and treat the patient. Caring for complex patients is a risk factor for psych nurse practitioner burnout. 

Emotional intensity.

Similar to points made above, mental health nurse practitioners often deal with emotionally charged situations. Mental health patients may also have behaviors that require the provider to find alternative ways of caring for and treating patients. Experiencing these emotionally draining patients/events takes a toll on a psych nurse practitioner’s mental and emotional well-being.

Burnout Resolution for Nurse Practitioners.
Join Burnout Resolution for Nurse Practitioners to create a better work-life balance and overcome nurse practitioner burnout.

High stress.

Mental health nurse practitioners work in a high-stress environment where they may be dealing with crisis situations such as a suicidal or self-harming patient. This creates a lot of pressure for the psych nurse practitioner which can increase overall stress. As we know, prolonged high stress can negatively impact our mental, physical, and emotional health

Additional tasks as an APRN.

As nurse practitioners know, not only do we assess, diagnose, and treat patients, we also have to document our findings in the electronic health record. Then add on the electronic health record inbox. Nurse practitioners are responsible for addressing medication refills, analyzing diagnostic data, reviewing past medical records, and the never ending patient messages.

Psych nurse practitioners may experience mental fatigue and overwhelm from the amount of tasks that need to be completed. This added stress is a risk factor for psych nurse practitioner burnout. 

Limited resources.

Psych nurse practitioners may work in settings with limited resources, such as limited access to technology or lack of support staff, which can make their job more difficult. I know my close friend who is a therapist was frustrated by the new rules implemented by administration which created a lack of resources. It was difficult for her to feel like she was truly making a difference in a patient’s life when it was challenging to actually care for the patient. 

Modern healthcare system.

Due to the current healthcare system, it can be difficult for nurse practitioners to care for patients. Many insurance companies have limitations on medications and treatments allowed. Many psych nurse practitioners have to complete numerous prior authorizations for diagnostic tests and/or medications. A lot of insurance companies do not cover for treatment of mental health conditions (i.e. therapy).

This causes a feeling of limited autonomy and decision-making power for mental health providers. In turn this can lead to feelings of frustration and psych nurse practitioner burnout.

Compassionate care.

Mental health nurse practitioners often become personally invested in their patients’ lives. Nursing is a caring profession which unfortunately may lead to emotional exhaustion and psych nurse practitioner burnout. Many will ponder or worry about their patients when they are not at work. This makes it difficult to truly be present in the moment and can cause a lack of work-life balance. 

Lack of peer support.

Psych nurse practitioners may feel isolated or unsupported in their work, especially if they are the only mental health provider in their setting. It is challenging to go through psych nurse practitioner burnout alone. When I was burned-out, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to because no one truly understood. This creates a feeling of solitary and lack of interest to overcome nurse practitioner burnout.

Finding support amongst the burnout

As previously mentioned, psych nurse practitioner burnout has several similar causative agents as general nurse practitioner burnout. But there are several challenges that are specific to mental health nurse practitioners.

If you are a psych nurse practitioner, know you do not have to go through this burnout alone! There is a group of equally burned-out nurse practitioners ready to support one another. Join The Burned-out Nurse Practitioner Facebook Group today! 

If you need more assistance with overcoming mental health nurse practitioner burnout, check out Burnout Resolution for Nurse Practitioners. This online, self-study course will teach the framework and mindset shifts to empower NPs to create a better work-life balance and resolve nurse practitioner burnout.

Also check out this article for 7 ways to overcome mental health nurse practitioner burnout.

Erica D the NP is a family nurse practitioner and burnout coach. Erica created The Burned-out Nurse Practitioner to help overwhelmed APRNs create work-life balance, overcome nurse practitioner burnout, and advocate for themselves. The Burned-out Nurse Practitioner offers online courses, coaching, and support. Learn more at www.burnedoutnp.com

For time management and charting tips, check out The Nurse Practitioner Charting School– The one stop for all documentation resources created specifically for nurse practitioners. Learn more at www.npchartingschool.com

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