Healthcare practitioners have some of the most satisfying careers where they can make a real difference in people’s lives. The mental toughness and high empathy many healthcare professionals possess can also make them less likely to seek help for themselves when the going gets tough.
The roles in healthcare are still just as rewarding as they ever have been because the impact on the people being cared for is the same. Health and medical careers continue to be more than just a job, but there is no getting away from the impact of staffing shortages and the need for mental health support.
A sweeping study of Covid-19’s impact on the mental health of healthcare employees in the UK has shown a 300% increase in those suffering from the highest levels of stress since the start of the pandemic. But the picture isn’t entirely bleak. The same survey revealed the risk of having high psychiatric symptoms can be reduced by as much as 40% if employees can share their stress at work. A problem shared is indeed a problem halved! So, what can you do as an employer to improve the mental health and well-being of your team?
Spotting the signs of mental health problems in yourself and your colleagues can help everyone prioritise self-care and overcome the stigma around seeking help. Some of the signs you should be looking out for as an employer include the following:
1. Fatigue and Insomnia
It’s no secret that shift work and long hours can see healthcare workers often running on empty. The main red flags of fatigue to look out for include:
• Poor concentration
• Short term memory problems
• Slowed reflexes or physical coordination
Implementing proper breaks, running training sessions on improving sleep hygiene and encouraging healthy food are the best ways for your team to get a handle on fatigue and poor sleep.
Experiencing a low mood on occasion is quite normal for all of us. If this feeling persists for two weeks or more, however, it may be a sign of something more serious.
A low mood and depression are not the same.
The core symptoms of depression include:
• Feeling low, pessimistic or hopeless
• A lack of motivation to go to work
• Withdrawing from others
• Negative and critical thoughts about oneself
• Marked changes in sleep and appetite
Other signs to look out for include emerging difficulties in relationships with loved ones and colleagues, feeling constantly tired, anger or irritability. It can be difficult for people to self-diagnose their depression so if you are close to your team, it can be easier to notice these signs, so you can be on top of it and arrange support.
Anxiety isn’t linear and while some people cope very well with anxious feelings others require medication and more support. The core symptoms of anxiety are:
• Feeling nervous, anxious or on edge
• An inability to stop or control worrying
• Worrying too much about different things
• Having trouble relaxing
• Feeling so restless that it’s hard to sit still,
• Becoming easily annoyed or irritable
• Feelings of impending doom
Related factors may include disturbed sleep patterns and resorting to ‘self-medication’ with alcohol and other substances. For some people, it’s not always easy to tell whether their anxiety is limited to the workplace or is part of a generalised anxiety disorder. As with depression, if these feelings last for two weeks or more, it is sensible to encourage your team to reach out to someone for help.
With rising healthcare workloads in recent years — and before the pandemic – awareness of healthcare employee burnout is growing. Researchers have noted that signs of burnout emerge as a distinct response to workplace stress, rather than issues outside of work. Symptoms include:
• Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
• An increased detachment from your job
• Being negative or cynical about work
• Feeling less effective and capable at work.
The good news is that there are immediate steps one can take to address burnout and with proper training, your team will know what to do. Encourage the use of annual leave, as taking time off work for a mental reset can help. You could also provide access to services for counselling and therapies.
5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD may occur in healthcare employees who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, and there can be plenty of those when dealing with people at their most vulnerable. The common symptoms include:
Many people who go through traumatic events may find it difficult to adjust at first, but it’s important to remember they can get better with time. Access to professional support and self-care is vital and with the right systems in place, you can offer these to your staff.
Whether you’re working on the frontline in management or other support roles, remember to check in with a colleague or employee and ask about their welfare if they’re showing any of the signs outlined above.
For employers, building a supportive culture and developing a wellbeing strategy will help mitigate many of the risk factors associated with mental health issues.
Employees must be able to access wellbeing support and treatment whenever they need it.
Consider introducing an ‘early warning system’ where colleagues can monitor each other for fatigue and other emerging symptoms or encourage workers to report when they feel too tired or distressed to carry on. Be mindful of how you set personal boundaries. How are you acting as a role model for work-life balance? Are you encouraging employees to use their annual leave?
Employers can also place limits on extended shifts and encourage staff to take more breaks at work. Providing facilities and services onsite to support busy staff (e.g., rest areas, laundry service, access to healthy food during breaks) are important gestures.
While healthcare workers tend to be resilient, a strong network of social support at work is essential for mental health and wellbeing, especially during the toughest times. Keeping an eye out for one another and encouraging colleagues to seek help are major steps in ensuring a healthy workplace. Preventing healthcare employee burnout is ultimately a team effort.
As a leading UK healthcare recruitment agency, we understand the unique career challenges of professionals in the sector. At QS Care, we help healthcare workers take the right steps on their career paths and provide them with essential support to help them shine at work. Get in touch with us today to find out more.