As frontline paramedics and ambulance staff, as well as students, academics and retirees are stepping up to help manage current demand and keep the public safe, with this comes an increased risk of work-related stress, anxiety and moral injury.
This is coupled with the additional challenges of having to distance from friends and relatives who may serve as support networks, avoid social gatherings and group hobbies, which may usually help with stress management, working long hours where getting enough rest may be challenging, avoiding frequent shopping which can make it more challenging to eat nutritious food, and gym facilities being closed, making it slightly more difficult to engage in physical exercise, all of which are extremely important for your mental health. As well as complex ethical decision-making and the loss of patients, many of you may have experienced the loss of colleague(s). Taking time to recognise the toll all of this may be taking on you, as well as renewing yourself, has never been more important.
A nurse I know who was swabbing patients for COVID-19—without appropriate personal protective equipment—was then unsurprisingly displaying symptoms. She was then required to self-isolate for 10 days—during which time she was unable to be with her two young children. Now she is back at work and has been redeployed to another role because her husband is living with a long-term condition and is considered too high-risk for her to continue testing patients.
In her new role, she is a stranger. She knows no one, is working unsociable hours, in an environment with no windows, alongside administrative staff who are treated badly but cannot speak up in fear of losing their jobs, and under management who literally put their hand in her face and said the words, ‘I don’t have time for this’ when she raised suggestions to improve morale and look after staff mental health. When recounting this story to me, the nurse said matter of factly, ‘We don’t matter to them, our lives don’t matter.’
Getting on with what needs doing without a thought to how all of this is impacting you may well come with more severe long-term consequences. If you happen to be in a leadership position, and feel unable to support your staff with everything else on your plate, you may want to ask—who is supporting you?
Granted, now may not seem like the ideal time to work towards a cultural workplace shift but changes to boost staff mental health are as urgent as all other changes currently taking place in response to this global emergency.
Whether you are on the frontlines or not, your work matters, your life matters, you matter. Let’s make sure each of you knows it.
Mental Health Awareness Week is 18-24 May 2020. Access free resources on the NHS in Mind platform