Clinical director and consultant psychiatrist Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, medical director of two Priory Group hospitals and clinical director of the Priory’s high street Wellbeing Centres, provides her top tips on how employers should care for those working in mental health
Mental health professionals listen to distressing information on a daily basis. They handle a high level of emotion from patients, while managing significant risks to protect their patients’ and their own safety. At times, employees might be faced with life-threatening incidents from patients, and their split-second decisions can ultimately save lives. Workers may then find it difficult to switch off when they return home, often thinking “What if I had not found the patient?”, “What if I made the wrong decision?” Taking on the distress of multiple people on a daily basis – as industry professionals are expected to do – requires considerable resilience and the need for daily support from colleagues and employers.
Sadly, at present, there has been minimal research conducted into the wellbeing of mental health workers. Having worked with several mental health teams – both in community and inpatient settings over a number of years – I have personally witnessed varying levels of support from employers and have seen first-hand the positive outcomes of good practice.
- Firstly, ensuring that mental health professionals have individual supervision – where they are encouraged to discuss their work and how it has affected them – is crucial. It allows an experienced supervisor to pick up on experiences the employee has had that could be emotionally draining. The right supervision also ensures that mental health professionals are maintaining appropriate boundaries and following guidelines in the workplace.
- Group supervision can be invaluable. By this, I mean where a mental health team is given the time during working hours to talk together with an experienced supervisor, who has had psychodynamic training, about the impact patients are having on their thoughts and emotions. It can be very liberating for employees to discuss issues in a confidential space where a non-judgemental stance predominates. When this does not occur regularly for those treating groups of complex patients, the teams can begin to function in an unhealthy way, unknowingly replicating some of the unhealthy patterns they witness.
- A senior management team often discusses the health and wellbeing of staff as part its clinical governance meetings, and this focus is also important. This covers not only staff mental health, but also physical health. As staff members are considered to be positive role models to patients, if they take time to care for themselves and their own physical health, there are numerous and valuable benefits to patients.
- It’s commonplace for staff members to have regular appraisals. This is a prime opportunity for managers to ask about employees’ health and whether this is also impacting negatively on their work. Managers may be able to pick up issues that occupational health could then assist with.
Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg is the clinical director of Priory Group’s high street Wellbeing Centres. A consultant psychiatrist, she is also medical director of two Priory Group hospitals, Woodbourne Priory Hospital and Nottingham Priory.