By Richard Latham, CEO, Wellmind Health (www.wellmindhealth.com)
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented strains on our wellbeing, with a particularly heavy burden placed on health and care professionals. A recent poll carried out by the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network in February and March of this year reveals the extent of the impact on female health and care staff in England.
The results show a significant rise in women working across health and care reporting a negative impact from their work on their mental and physical health as a result of the pandemic. There can be a reluctance to share if people are struggling emotionally, for fear of it damaging careers and due to the stigma still attached to mental health. It’s important to build and maintain open lines of communication, so people feel able to reach out if they are struggling.
Open cultures also help us to work proactively and preventatively, helping people maintain good health and wellbeing in the first place, not just providing interventions if they are suffering. Sharing personal stories can be a powerful way of changing culture, breaking the taboo, and opening that dialogue around mental health.
For some, it can be uncomfortable speaking with managers about these issues, and managers don’t always have right knowledge, skills and confidence to support. Managers can be trained in mental health first aid and awareness, and their needs must be considered too.
Making time to slow down and focus on our personal needs is not always easy, even at the best of times. Providing flexible working opportunities can help care staff to avoid burnout, be better able to cope with outside caring responsibilities, and to find the space and personal time to exercise and reconnect with themselves.
Physical activity and being amongst nature and green spaces can greatly aid both our physical and mental health, so providing flexibility and encouraging staff to get outside regularly and partake in exercise are simple but effective ways to help maintain physical and mental wellbeing. Just ten minutes of brisk walking can improve mental alertness, energy and boost our mood.
The benefits of meditation are wide-ranging, from reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue to improved sleep, better emotional wellbeing and increased attention span. Group in-person or online meditation times can be organised, and digital meditation aids can help beginners. Be careful not to overload people with group sessions or make them feel like they have to participate as not everyone is comfortable with such activities. Apps can be particularly useful here, allowing people the freedom and privacy to manage their own mental wellbeing.
The use of apps and digital therapeutics accelerated dramatically when lockdowns commenced and have been extremely valuable in helping to maintain and improve wellbeing. They are available 24/7, can be completed at your own pace, and offer privacy for people. There are many apps on offer to aid physical and mental wellbeing but there are variations in the levels of quality and effectiveness so it’s important to find which ones work best for your team’s needs. Some apps are NHS- approved, which can provide a level of reassurance.
It’s vital that as many effective lines of support as possible are made available to our health and care sector staff, especially with females making up the vast majority of the workforce and often having to contend with significant caring responsibilities outside of work too.