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MAY 16/2016

How to maintain mental health in the workplace

Medacs Healthcare Mental Health

Work makes up a significant proportion of our lives. For many, it is a key source of stresses and successes, meaning it has the power to challenge us not only mentally and physically, but also emotionally. It is little surprise then, that work - and the workplace itself - can have a big impact on our mental health. This is especially the case in high-pressure roles like healthcare, where day-to-day situations are routinely emotionally challenging.

While it's important to be aware of how work can negatively affect mental health through stress levels and pressure, it is also worth bearing in mind that the workplace presents plenty of opportunities to foster good mental health - both for yourself and your peers.

The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) Labour Force Survey revealed that the main factors behind work-related stress, depression or anxiety are workload pressures. These can take the form of increased workload due to understaffing, having too many patients to care for, and dealing with changes to the health system, to name but a few.

Compounding workplace mental health issues is the fact that mental health is still somewhat taboo in the workplace - though headway is being made. Fear of being seen as a failure, losing your job or suffering stigma often render staff reluctant to discuss mental health. For those suffering from either poor mental health or a particular condition, this fear, lack of openness and stigma often compound the problem.

Did you know?

  • According to the HSE, "work-related stress, depression or anxiety is defined as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work".
  • In 2014/15, the total number of work-related stress, depression or anxiety cases in Great Britain was 440,000.
  • 9.9 million working days were lost in 2014/15 because of such conditions. This equates to an average of 23 days per case.
  • Stress is more common in public industries, such as health.
  • A 2015 Royal College of Nursing survey revealed that 59 per cent of nurses felt too busy to provide the level of care they'd like, and 82 per cent had worked when not feeling well enough to do so, with 46 per cent citing stress at the cause.

Mental health awareness - business support

Tips for good workplace mental health

Work may be a common cause of stress, but there are things you can do to help both yourself and your peers maintain good mental health. 

Aim for a work-life balance

Striking a balance between your work and personal life is a key part of mental health. While everyone has to work overtime occasionally, make sure this doesn't become the norm. Working longer hours than you're meant to is not only tiring physically and mentally, but it often has a negative impact on your personal life by taking time away from it - and making you too tired and stressed to enjoy the time you do have.

Make self-care a part of your routine 

One of the most fundamental keys to mental health is to ensure self-care is a part of your regular routine. Doctor, care working and nursing jobs - and indeed most healthcare roles - typically carry a busy schedule that can often make this feel unachieveable. However, making time to eat proper meals, take regular exercise, and indulge in a hobby you really enjoy can help keep your stress levels - and your overall health - in check.

Encourage support between your peers

Evidence suggests that relationships are an integral part of good mental health - in fact, they're even the theme of 2016's Mental Health Awareness Week. And this means relationships of all kinds, including causal connections with colleagues. So, take the time to talk to your peers when you can - speak to new people, talk instead of sending an email, offer to carpool, or even start a weekly social event. Best of all, if you can regularly set aside a few minutes to find out how a colleague is, and really listen to what they say, it can be hugely beneficial to both your mental health and theirs. It can also help to foster a culture of peer support.

Get to grips with CBT

Another useful tip is to familiarise yourself with the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - a concept you are likely to be aware of, especially if you're a doctor, even if you have not tried it yourself. Applying CBT principles to your day-to-day life can help prevent your emotions about work from spiralling out of control, and to keep things in perspective.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

If you find your workload is getting on top of you, don't suffer in silence. Talk to your superior so they can help you - this might take the form of helping you balance the various elements of your role more efficiently, or perhaps moving some responsibilities away from you. Remember, there is no shame in asking your superior for help or advice; after all, an integral part of their role is removing obstacles preventing their staff working as well as they can.

Keep learning

Learning bolsters mental health in several ways; enhancing self-esteem, it also encourages social interaction. Taking the opportunity to learn new skills can not only improve your career prospects, but boost your overall wellbeing too. So, take advantage of development opportunities where you can, such as through CPD courses, and feel the positive impact this can have. 

Seek professional help if you suspect you need it 

As with physical health, in mental health sometimes things go wrong despite our best efforts. There is no shame in needing professional help to get your mental health back on track, and there are plenty of organisations specifically designed to support those working in healthcare jobs. Doctors, for example, can contact the BMA Counselling Service and Doctors' Support Network, among others.

Mental health awareness - person being offered a job

Quick tips for reducing stress while job hunting

Of course, work isn't only stressful day-to-day; looking for a new role can be taxing too. Here are a few ways to help maintain your mental wellbeing while searching for work:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • If you are unemployed, treat job hunting like a job itself to give your day structure
  • Use the time to improve your skills
  • Set up small, achievable goals each day or week so you can celebrate your progress.

Want to further your career in mental health? Find out more about our Specialist Mental Health team  and our locum psychiatry jobs.

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