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How to Look After Your Mental Health While Working in Mental Health

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As a mental health advocate, I have been intrigued by the human mind and behaviour from an early age.

When I secured my first role in healthcare as an Assistant Clinical Psychologist, I was buzzing full of energy, though, admittedly, with a touch of trepidation. I so wanted to help care for and support vulnerable people.

A career like this is a vocation and you put so much of yourself into your work, so much so that sometimes it can be difficult to make a clear distinction between work and private life – striking the balance can be difficult. In fact, I’m not sure that a true balance between the two even exists. More importantly, who cares for, and looks after the professionals and carers involved? I don’t recall this information forming a part of my own induction or training when I entered this world. Although this was not too long ago, I hope that this has changed for the better.

I do, however, recall, quite vividly, the difficulty in leaving my work at home and “switching off” initially. I’ve always had so much empathy and compassion for patients and colleagues, sometimes to my own detriment. I quickly had to face the reality that in order to look after other people, you have to look after yourself first.

This is not selfish, but a necessity. And, in part, may help to explain why promoting self-care and wellbeing has become so important to me. Recently, I have been reflecting on what worked well for me in this regard and also what I would tell my younger self, or anyone starting a career in health and social care for that matter…

A note to my younger self, forging a career in mental health care

Dear AJ,

I’ve been reflecting on my career working in mental health services lately and have gained some perspective, insights and lessons learned. Here are some things for you to consider:

  • Listen to your body – take breaks and use your annual leave when you need to. Consider planning in advance some of the days that you might like to take off during the course of the year and hold on to some days for unexpected events, activities or trips.

  • Trust your intuition – if something doesn’t feel right that’s because it probably isn’t!

  • Talk to your colleagues – have regular chats with colleagues in your trusted network. Laugh together, cry together. They truly understand where you are coming from, particularly the ebbs and flows of your work.

  • Develop your passions and interests or discover new ones – a gentle reminder that you do have a life outside work and it helps to have an outlet separate from it.

  • Don’t be so hard on yourself! You always give it your all and try your best, that is more than good enough.

  • Try to recognise when you might be struggling – you are naturally reflective and self-aware, but sometimes things do manage to creep up on you. 1. Note down your warning signals 2. When it’s time, pile on the self-care and take better care of yourself. This may also help to avoid or manage burnout further down the line.

  • Create and maintain boundaries at work – this applies to patients and colleagues. Yes, there is a need to be flexible at times, but don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice if you feel uncomfortable about something, someone or a situation. Unfortunately, your boundaries may be pushed, but this is a part of life. Don’t forget to be considerate of other people’s boundaries too.

  • Laugh and laugh again – it’s a great release of tension! As they say, ‘laughter is good for the soul’. Continue to be your happy, positive and giggly self. Just do you!

  • Embrace learning to deal with uncertainty – it’s a part of the job I’m afraid, but you will develop coping skills and ways to manage this as time goes on. There are no clear-cut solutions in mental health care. Yes, there’s an evidence base to inform your practice, but honestly, some interventions are trial and error because one method does not fit all. Plus, there’s still so much to discover about mental health conditions and how best to treat them.

  • Steer clear from office politics – enough said!

  • Take your full lunch break – and don’t feel bad about it! Nope!

  • Get moving – engage in some physical activity and movement to help boost your mental health; dancing around in your living room definitely counts!

  • Have A Good Night’s Sleep – it’s truly restorative for your mind and body, so please try not to take it for granted.

  • Do something that brings you joy – yup, this is all about you! Be selfish. You’re so used to giving to others, now it’s time to do something strictly for yourself.

  • Insist on regular supervision – you need and deserve a safe space to offload, reflect and improve your practice.

  • Know your worth – you are worthy and don’t give anyone the time of day who tells you different.

  • Find your happy place (outside of work) – don’t forget just how much you love to be by the water.

  • Find a mentor – to help guide you. You may be surprised to discover just how much someone is willing to help you if you ask.

  • Track your accomplishments – sometimes you simply need to remind yourself of all the progress you’ve made.

  • Seek professional support if you need it – the earlier the better. You deserve support too. Sadly, so many people are in need of help but are too afraid to ask, perhaps even more so when your profession is all about helping others.

  • I’m sure I’ve probably missed something – this list is not static, so feel free to add to it and shape it as you wish.

Read the full piece here.


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