Caring for those who care for us
By Mason Gismondi, Psychological Health & Safety Partner at Bupa.
When we are ill, injured or in need of support, we turn to our health practitioners for timely and expert advice. But who do these clinicians turn to when they are struggling with their mental health? Who cares for the carers?
The unfortunate reality is that practising clinicians have similar rates of depression compared to the general population, despite their deeper understanding of health and wellbeing - and often experience a higher frequency of emotional exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and burnout due to the high-stake activities they are faced with every day.
Clinicians, practitioners and nurses are often passionate individuals, who work in an industry that demands a high level of performance. Add to this irregular hours, emotionally draining job demands, and the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented to the health system, and it is clear to see why the mental health of health practitioners needs our attention.
So how can we give back? How can we, as colleagues, employers and patients, support those who dedicate themselves to supporting everyone else? There are a few different things that we can try:
- Eliminate the stigma. It’s important to recognise that having a mental health concern or illness does not mean a clinician is unable to perform their role. Many people living with a mental illness successfully manage their work and home commitments, and the more our society can support each other to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, the more we can work together to help those that don’t yet feel comfortable to reach out for help when they need it.
- Be aware: We all need to be mindful that healthcare professionals can experience high levels of stress throughout their days, and that this needs to be acknowledged regularly. Workplaces should focus on creating an environment where clinicians feel comfortable to check in with, and support each other. For patients, it’s important to exercise patience, kindness and compassion when engaging with health professionals. Just because they work in health doesn’t mean they are immune to harmful actions or words.
- Promote help-seeking behaviour wherever possible. Studies show that limitations on time, lack of convenient access and fear of judgement, all contribute to a reluctance to seek mental health support for some health professionals. It is therefore essential that relevant external support avenues are highlighted by employers, colleagues, friends and family at appropriate times. Within Australia, there are programs developed by practioners to support practitioners, including DRS4DRS (DRS4DRS – Help doctors stay healthy), and the Dental Practitioner Support helpline (Dental Practitioner Support | 24/7 support for Australian Dental Practitioners).
- Encourage a proactive process of self-care. A robust and consistent self-care routine is vital in maintaining and promoting well-being and resilience. Given the emotional toll healthcare jobs can take, it’s important we help health care professionals look after themselves physically and mentally. This should include a proper diet, exercise and a healthy sleep routine. Self-reflection mindfulness techniques such as meditation that help people centre the mind and recognise any emerging issues before they spiral are also recommended.
- Be grateful. Our healthcare professionals are so important to our everyday lives. They heal our wounds, ease our pain and support us through life’s most difficult moments. As such, the simple act of a letter of thanks, a friendly phone call or a supportive post on social media can make a big difference to a clinician’s day, week or even year.
So as we recognise World Mental Health Day during these challenging COVID-19 affected times, I encourage you all to look after yourself, check up on each other and support the health care professionals in your life.