Exposure to stress, anxiety and trauma has never been more widespread during the Covid-19 pandemic, with health and social care professionals being significantly affected. A 2020 study reported that 44% of doctors have reported experiencing symptoms related to mental health conditions. PTSD, Depression, anxiety and insomnia is understandably on the increase.
At Medacs Healthcare, the wellbeing of our healthcare professionals is of the utmost importance to us, that’s why we’ve teamed up with The Joyful Doctor to help enable our healthcare professionals to speak up and find ways to take care of your mental health and wellbeing.
We spoke with Founder Dr Caroline Walker and Head of Training Dr Katya Mies from The Joyful Doctor to discuss how you can take care of your mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic.
The Joyful Doctor was founded in 2017 to help combat a feeling often felt by health and social care professionals; not being able to let go. Dr Caroline Walker previously struggled with her own mental health when dealing with the pressures of the healthcare industry. After battling anxiety, depression and addiction Dr Walker found solace within practicing psychiatry and so The Joyful Doctor was born.
We spoke with Dr Caroline Walker and Dr Katya Miles to understand how focusing on our mental health, and aiming to maintain a healthy wellbeing, enables you to cope better as a healthcare professional during these challenging times.
The wellbeing pandemic
The battle to beat Covid-19 has brought with it many issues for health care workers, many of which directly relate to mental health and wellbeing. Dr Walker, founder of The Joyful Doctor explains “Prior to the pandemic we often saw health care workers experiencing work-related stress such as burn out, anxiety and depression. The current pandemic has definitely affected health care workers, and mental health and wellbeing is very much a concern.”
The most common issues seen by The Joyful Doctor throughout the pandemic include; guilt, fear and burnout. Many healthcare professionals are experiencing guilt related to shift patterns and leaving team members behind when their shift ends, alongside the fear for their families and the potential risk to their health. Exhaustion is at an all-time high, with 44% of doctors reporting symptoms of burnout during the pandemic.
Along with these issues many healthcare professionals report a feeling of emotional strain and cut-off, directly related to the use of lifesaving PPE. It is a natural habit to speak to patients and service users with emotion, to smile, and be able to communicate through touch. The PPE used to keep you protected and safe makes these natural instincts simply impossible to act upon.
The Joyful Doctor states they have also seen an increase in grief and trauma within healthcare professionals throughout the pandemic. Like their patients, those working in health and social care are experiencing PTSD related to higher exposure of death and suffering on a more regular basis. As a healthcare professional working on the frontline of the current pandemic, you can unfortunately expect to experience this side of care.
The rate at which employees are currently experiencing these conditions may be leading the UK towards a mental health crisis within the healthcare industry. A survey carried out by The British Medical Association found that 51% of doctors do not feel supported by the government when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
Evidence placed forward by Health.org also revealed that four in five social care workers reported that their mental health had been damaged by their work during the pandemic, with the youngest workers being hit the hardest.
So how can you take care of yourself? The Joyful Doctor provide a wide range of services to promote good mental health and wellbeing.
- Signposting to free services for career advice, wellbeing issues, and general health services
- Online webinars available offering help and guidance to improve your health
- Online module available to educate you in personal wellbeing and mental health
- A wide range of podcasts available with like-minded healthcare professionals
- One-to-one coaching for career and wellbeing support
Taking care of me – Taking care of you
With the aim of improving the mental health and wellbeing of health care professionals, both Dr Walker and Dr Miles promote ways in which healthcare professionals can take care of more than just their general health.
“Healthcare professionals often find it hard to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. They keep their hero cape on and paint on a smile creating the illusion that everything is okay, when really they need help.” explains Dr Walker, highlighting why it is so important to promote mental health and wellbeing in the healthcare industry.
She continues, “If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of others?”
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of developing mental health conditions to help yourself and support team members. “Healthcare professionals must remember to seek help from their GP and not simply self-diagnose” says Dr Miles.
Signs of poor mental health
- Poor concentration
- Increased worrying
- A lack of interest in day-to-day activities
- General low mood
- Heightened emotions such as anger, fear, upset
- Lack of energy
- Insomnia or sleeping more than usual
- Short temperament and irritability
So how can you focus on taking care of your mental health and wellbeing, in turn ensuring safe clinical practice? The Joyful Doctor suggests following these steps.
Steps to healthy wellbeing
- Back to basics – While educating healthcare professionals on how to take care of themselves, Dr Walker and Dr Miles have used the “Potted Plant” analogy. Dr Miles, Head of Training poses this question, “You are a potted plant. What do you need in order to grow?” In short, think of these basics. Have you taken time for yourself today to shower, eat, exercise and rest? Clinicians often find it hard to give themselves the time to do the basics in order to live a healthy life. If you take a moment to take care of yourself using the potted plant analogy, you will begin to work productively and effectively. As Dr Walker says, “Self-care, self-care, self-care.”
- Give yourself permission – it’s time to hang up the superhero cape and give yourself permission to address the issues you are currently facing. Give yourself permission to work on your wellbeing in order to improve productivity.
- Practice gratitude – Often when we are deep-rooted in a negative situation, it can be hard to see any positives at all. Keeping a gratitude journal enables you not only to see everything you have to be grateful for but provides you with a record to look back on. A study by Harvard Medical School has shown that employees who feel gratitude within their life experience increased productivity and wellbeing.
- Acceptance – This is a tough one. Accept the feelings you feel. Accept that you are only human and give yourself the permission to address these feelings.
- Don’t self-diagnose - See your own doctor to discuss any mental health or wellbeing worries you may be experiencing. It is vitally important that you see a medical professional to take care of your own health and wellbeing.
- Connect – Speaking with friends and family about your mental health and wellbeing can help you digest the issues you may be facing. They may not understand but talking will absolutely help. Connecting with other healthcare professionals in the same position as yourself will help you see that you are not alone. The Joyful Doctor provide webinars with like-minded healthcare professionals and welcome community throughout their practice.
Battling the pandemic together
Teams work more effectively together when the morale is high, Dr Miles states; “There is a social contagion within a team. When a team member has persistent low mood and recurrent negative behaviours, it is often felt throughout the team making it harder for them to work efficiently together.”
Patient safety is at greater risk when teams struggle to work effectively. A study conducted in 2015 by The BMJ saw that 88.9% of errors made within clinical practice were directly related to poor wellbeing within healthcare professionals.
Dr Walker continues, “When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, we all have a role to play - as individuals, as teams and as organisations.” The message is clear - it is vital that healthcare professionals look after their mental health and wellbeing in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic together, effectively.
What can Medacs Healthcare do to help?
At Medacs Healthcare we genuinely care about the mental health and wellbeing of our health and social care professionals. We see it as our duty to ensure all health and social care professionals have access to support, especially through this difficult time.
We offer webinars conducted by The Joyful Doctor team to help you with your mental health and wellbeing. Medacs Healthcare also has a dedicated occupational health team, who are on hand to help you 24/7. To join an agency that really cares, register your details with Medacs Healthcare today.
It’s time for change
“Taking care of your mental health has always been important” states Dr Walker. And it has never been so imperative than under the current circumstances. The impact of Covid-19 on the wellbeing of health and social care professionals is in itself becoming a pandemic. And one that we can all help to slow down, not be “Hands, Face, Space”, but simply taking better care of ourselves.
And if you find yourself in need of urgent help, text “FRONTLINE” to 85258.