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How to look after your mental health when you work in care

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Posted: 06/08/2019
Category: blog
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Care workers and nurses need more support to handle the emotional impact of their jobs. According to an article published on Vice, depression is over twice as prevalent in nurses as it is in the general population—18 percent versus nine percent (in the US), and nurses with depression are not only likely to suffer themselves, but their illness may have an impact on their coworkers and potentially the quality of care they provide. In a study from 2014, workers in the healthcare industry had higher ratios for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and psychiatric disorders. Among workers in healthcare industry, females had higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders than males.

There are multiple reasons as to what makes care work so emotionally taxing, including working conditions associated with the health and well-being of visiting home care workers, being unfairly paid, having minimal benefits, emotional labour, lack organisational support, lack of control over work, and peer pressure. Having to witness and care for some people through to the end of their lives can also be hard on the strongest of people.

In an article in the Guardian, Paul Case a mental health and housing support worker living in Edinburgh, wrote: “It’s incredible how much emotional labour social care workers take on but rarely discuss. We work intimately, often alone, with some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We see, hear and intervene in situations that can be distressing. We witness the realities of abuse, poverty and addiction. Processing the emotional impact of our work takes time and effort.

“The consequences of not having the time and space to adequately perform our emotional labour can be disastrous. As a recovery worker for a mental health charity, I’ve seen staff break down crying, signed off due to stress or simply leave halfway through a shift, unable to cope. A high staff turnover, an over-reliance on agency staff and inconsistent support all appear to be near-endemic in social care.”

We all need a break, no matter how much we love our jobs. If you are not at 100% as a care worker, you cannot adequately care for those in need. Nurse.org say that not looking after your mental health can result in distraction, and when you’re distracted -whether work-related or not- you should promptly tackle the situation. It can also affect physical health, often resulting in heart disease, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, asthma, obesity, gastronomical problems and premature death. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states, “there is no health without mental health.” Poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical ailments. When your mental health begins to affect your physical health, you should definitely use a mental health day to care for yourself.

Here are Mind the Charity’s top tips for staying well at work:

1. Reclaim your lunch break: Why not make the most of that precious hour – or half hour – by trying some of these suggestions…
2. Hold a group activity: If there’s a green space near your workplace why not organise a game of rounders or football, hold a guerrilla gardening session, or a group walk? Take time to enjoy the outdoors and get re-energised for an afternoon of productive work.
3. Take up a challenge: Local sponsored walks or marathons are a great way to keep active. Sign with your colleagues and train together during lunch breaks. Participating as part of a team can give a communal sense of achievement when you complete the challenge.
4. When you’re at work, working hard to complete a task, music can also help eliminate distractions around you. By blocking out the noise of your fellow workers, machinery or bleeping phones you can focus easier on the task at hand.
5. Create clear boundaries between work and home: Try not to let work spill over into your personal life. If you need to bring work home, designate a separate area for work and stick to it, you’ll find it much easier to then close the door on work.
6. Use the time on your commute home to wind down from work: Read a book or listen to your music to set aside some time to yourself. Maybe try cycling part of your journey or getting off a stop early to take a shortcut through a park or quiet streets. These little actions can really help you to switch off.
7. Ask for help: If you feel your workload is spiralling out of control, take opportunity to discuss it with your manager or supervisor. If you can't resolve the problem of unrealistic goals, organisation problems or deadlines in this way, talk to your personnel department, trade union representative or other relevant members of staff.

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