Looking after your mental health as a health professional
Burnout, anxiety and depression: the Impact of Covid-19 on health professionals
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected everyone, and the demand for mental health services has likely never been larger. In 2020, the Butterfly National Helpline webchat saw a 116% increase in contacts, while recent research conducted by youth mental foundation headspace estimates that 75% of young people have reported increased mental ill health because of the pandemic.
Many doctors, psychologists, mental health workers, dietitians and eating disorder recovery coaches have adeptly provided ongoing support to those who need it most. But with these increases in demand, comes added pressure and stress to healthcare workers.
A 2020 study measuring mental health outcomes amongst Australian health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic found that a substantial proportion have found their mental health negatively impacted.
Doctors, nurses, front-line staff, and allied health professionals including social workers and psychologists, reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD (21%, 20% and 29% respectively). Participants also reported significant rates of burnout (29.5%), which is caused by “work that demands continuous, long-term physical, cognitive or emotional effort”.
Further, the pandemic has created a new working environment that has seen many adjust to working from home. The Australian Psychological Society reports that while this can result in increased productivity, and greater work satisfaction, working from home can also take its toll on mental health
So, we have to ask the question – who is looking after the mental health of our mental health support workers?
If you’re a mental health professional or a health care worker, it’s important now, more than ever, to ensure that you also prioritising your own mental health. Ensure that your own cup of mental strength and self-care is full, so that you can continue supporting those who need it, without sacrificing your own stability.
Tips to help
When you are in a caring profession and committed to helping your clients navigate their own mental health issues, this can often be a challenging and high-pressure environment, where your successes may feel like they are not recognised. As such, this can result in emotional exhaustion, negativity, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment – other wise known as burnout. If you are feeling this, there are a number of strategies that can be beneficial to getting you back on track.
Engage in regular self-monitoring
Regularly check in with yourself and take stock of your feelings, thoughts, and stressors. Doing so can help you catch burnout in its early stages before it leads to further mental ill health. These symptoms include low energy, low motivation, low mood, feeling isolated, feeling cynical or disengaged from work that you value, procrastination, and irritability, among others.
Set boundaries and ensure a work-life balance
It’s important to set boundaries and ensure that your professional life is not encroaching on your personal life. This can be difficult when working from home but try to ensure you are sticking to work hours and switching off when you are finished for the day. It can be helpful to develop ways that signal your work environment is now a home one when the day ends – such as ending the day with a walk similar to your usual commute time, listening to music or switching off your devices and notifications.
Manage your time and tasks
It can be helpful to create a list and prioritise important tasks that must be completed that day, while moving less important tasks to when you have more time. By setting a structure and routine, it will help ensure you are not over-extending yourself, while staying organised.
Lockdowns, restrictions and working from home can be extremely isolating. It is important to maintain social interaction and connection with your colleagues, friends and loved ones – research suggests that one of the biggest challenges when working remotely is loneliness. During work hours, consider visual ways you could collaborate with your colleagues and engage with them for creative thinking or problem solving. Stay connected with your family and friends and let them know if you are going through a hard time. While you don’t always have to muster up the energy for Zoom trivia, keeping connection lines open through regular check ins can help.
Make time for things you enjoy & practice self-care
It can be tempting to work overtime or over-commit yourself to your clients and patients when they are struggling. But it is so important that you also make time for yourself and do things that bring you personal joy and satisfaction outside of work.
According to the RACGP, you should also prioritise getting a good night’s sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and practicing regular exercise.
Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques
Mindfulness and relaxation can be a great way of regulating your emotions and regaining perspective. It can also help by giving you the space and time to focus on your inner self and identify what you need, while reducing the symptoms of burn out.
Black Dog has developed a number of quick relaxation techniques for healthcare workers that can be practiced in the workplace or at home.
Everyday, health professionals reiterate to their clients the importance of speaking up and getting help when they need it. The same goes for you – it’s important to reach out when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
Hand-n-Hand is a free, confidential peer support program for health professionals in Australia and New Zealand, designed as a response to the pandemic and the growing emotional and mental burdens that have resulted. Peer support provides emotional and wellbeing assistance from people who have been there themselves. Through this program, you can either receive peer support from other health professionals, or volunteer as a peer support facilitator to help others take care of their mental health and wellbeing.
Head to Health
Head to Health has a number of great resources dedicated to finding you the right support to manage what you are going through.
TEN – The Essential Network for Health Professionals
As a part of the government’s COVID-19 response, TEN was developed for health professionals, by health professionals, as a multifaceted e-health hub dedicated to connecting workers with mental health and wellbeing services. An initiative of Black Dog, this includes self-guided mental health check ups, connection to one-on-one clinical care, evidence-based tools and resources, peer support and digital mental health programs. Unless your patients are at risk, all contact is confidential.
Employee Assistance Programs
Many workplaces have Employee Assistance Programs in place, designed to provide confidential and free counselling and support to their workers. This often also includes services for immediate family members. Check with your workplace’s HR department or your manager for the options available to you.
Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service
Presented by Black Dog, this webinar discusses the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Australian health professionals. What does the research tell us about what consequences to expect in the population generally as well as in ourselves and our colleagues? Also discusses what strategies need to be in place to mitigate the effects of future crises on health care workers.
Ways to check in on your mental health and what to do if you’re not coping.
Ensure you are creating the best possible environment to nurture your mental health while working from home.