Many of us have been experiencing high levels of constant stress in the past couple of years and it may not be getting better any time soon, especially in rural areas. It’s not just our patients who need support right now. As health professionals we need it too – whether we like to admit it or not.
The truth is, most of us are not keen to admit that we are human. Some things in life are difficult even for us and sometimes we need to accept help rather than provide it. Traditionally, working in medicine, and health care generally, calls for a stiff upper lip and a heroic stance. Those things are not always possible and our failure to seek help and support can lead to some very unfortunate outcomes for us, our families and our patients.
There are not many examples in the public sphere of health professionals with mental health difficulties coming out to talk about it. But I’ll bet, like me, you personally know quite a few people who are struggling. It’s not something health professionals tend to talk about. Maybe that failure to talk about it serves us poorly. Talking about our troubles is what we encourage our patients to do, in the knowledge that articulating our problems often helps to find a solution. Why wouldn’t that work for us as well?
There are places we can go to get help that doesn’t have to involve formal face-to-face care.
If you are struggling, or you know a health professional who is, you might like to visit the Black Dog Institute Online Clinic. It’s not a treatment clinic but a free and anonymous diagnostic testing service using a set of well-validated psychological instruments. When you have completed the instruments, you’ll receive a report on the results with some recommendations arising from those results. It doesn’t take the place of clinical assessment, of course, but it’s more objective than trying to diagnose yourself.
Once you’re at the point of accepting that a little help might be a good thing, check out the TEN page of the Black Dog Institute website. TEN – The Essential Network for Health Professionals – is a service that was funded by the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and developed by the Black Dog Institute especially for health professionals. It provides links to a range of information and services that are likely to be particularly useful to struggling health professionals. It includes information about helping yourself as well as your colleagues.
Of particular note on the TEN page is the set of learning modules about burnout prevention and management, launched in April this year. As well as tips to encourage you to find ways to arm yourself against burnout, there is also a section of evidence-based advice for those who manage a team, to help them manage in ways that will reduce the risk of burnout in team members.
One of the big recommendations on the TEN page is around peer support. Many practitioners don’t have a supportive tearoom and working remotely, or even just rurally, it’s hard to put together a group of colleagues and peers that you can talk to on a regular basis. The Hand-n-Hand Peer Support network was established in 2020 to help fill those gaps. Run by volunteers, Hand-n-Hand offers assessment and referral for those who feel they need more support. Better still, it offers one-to-one or group peer support from carefully matched volunteers. If you are well but feel you have something to offer, you can even volunteer with Hand-n-Hand to provide support to colleagues and peers.
Please make use of these resources. They were developed with you in mind.