Put on your own life jacket first… (Mental Health Awareness week – Day 1)

Over the years much of the management style in the NHS has had its origins in the aviation industry; from dynamic risk management to ‘the human factor’ lots of what we do can trace its ancestors back to the aviation industry. That is no bad thing, they have provided some great starting points for NHS leadership over the years but there is one I think we miss. For me this one is the most important.

“Please put on your own life jacket first before stopping to help others”

During Mental Health Awareness week one of the clear focus’ is stress and I can’t emphasise enough the currency of this issue. Resources are so stretched that we find ourselves managing risk more than distress on a daily basis and when fire fighting so often the raised cortisol levels leave those on the front line feeling anxious about what they perceive ‘their failings’ as a clinician. I used to refuse to use the line ‘front line’ nursing as we are not at war but that feels like an accurate description these days if I am honest.

I became a nurse because having been severely unwell with my own mental health and having received a mixed bag of care, some amazing but some quite frankly shocking. I wanted to help others in a holistic way, I wanted to walk side by side with people as they worked toward recovery, whatever that may be for them. Maybe I was idealistic? I even did my nursing dissertation on the changing role of the nurse as we move toward wholly co-produced mental health care. That shouldn’t be idealistic.

Getting to finish a day, even just once in a while knowing that we have made a positive difference, that shouldn’t be idealistic either. Tough days will always exist but should not be the norm. It scares me how many hugely experienced clinicians are due to retire in the next couple of years so without a major injection of cash things are only going to get worse not better.

Today we had a team stress risk assessment review and I won’t go into details because that is a local issue for my team but I was struck by how tired my colleagues and I are and how photo’s were popping up all day of people holding up pictures about managing stress for Mental Health Awareness week but that unless the staff put on their life jackets first and consider their own mental well being or we won’t be able to support others.

When I nursed on the refugee camp a couple of years ago it tested me to my absolute limits clinically, I was exhausted from long hours and I was working with deficits in resources even bigger than the NHS (I know right!) but stress didn’t hit us because we knew we were making a positive difference. I wonder what we could learn from that? Staff I work with are incredibly resourceful and supportive of each other and I wonder whether for a short time whether it is worth taking the emphasis away from the negatives and trial looking at ‘in an ideal world’ what would staff change at little or no cost… Kind of Solution Focused Brief Therapy for a team if you will?

So just a short blog but I hope you agree an important issue to start Mental Health Awareness Week so whether orange is your colour or not get your flipping life jacket on to enable you to keep helping others.

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek #Stress #AreYouCoping


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