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It’s okay not to be okay: reflections during Mental Health Awareness Week

An article by Dr Julie Luscombe, Head of Education and Learning

Mental Health Awareness Week has been an opportune time to reflect on the upheaval in our personal and professional lives since we all went into lockdown for COVID-19. Here at Jersey Hospice Care, we pride ourselves on being one community. This pandemic has seen us spread geographically across the island as many of our teams adapt to remote working and others remain at Clarkson House to continue the delivery of excellent end of life care to our patients and their families. Yet, despite this, I have never felt more connected to the organisation as we have all pulled together to support each other and work in new ways.

Nevertheless, these are unsettling times. The response to coronavirus has been complex and ever changing as new evidence emerges and we learn from global experiences. Our clinical staff and education team have had to stay current with all the emerging guidance and adapt existing skills to respond to a new situation. Anyone working within a healthcare organisation knows how important human connections are so not being able to see each other or to see our patients and their families connecting has been a real challenge.

Our retail shops and events planning, such valuable sources of income to keep our clinical services going, have needed to close or stop due to government guidelines. Our volunteers had to be withdrawn. The remote teams have had to struggle with feelings of isolation or disconnection from their teams, technical equipment that doesn’t always play ball and a constant self questioning of how much work is enough when you are working remotely or whether it is okay to put a load of washing on or even make a cup of tea! We know from our own experience and the many webinars available on this subject that remote workers often work many long hours just to feel we are contributing to keeping our clinical services going.

Whichever team we work in, we’ve been trying to get our jobs done as well as we can whilst remembering we are also human! We worry about the virus, about our friends and family and what this means for us in Jersey and the world as a whole. I’m willing to guess we have all done our own share of stockpiling certain items (for me, it was tinned tomatoes for some strange reason). It’s no surprise then that all of this has caused a great deal of stress and worry over the last few weeks.

The bottom line for us at Jersey Hospice Care is to deliver excellent end of life care to our patients and their families and wherever we work in the organisation, we all know what part we play towards that. Yet we know that our clinicians, our team leaders and non clinical teams have been working harder and for longer hours to get ourselves prepared to deal with the pandemic. That’s not sustainable without a real focus on staff wellbeing.

So our main message to each other during this time has been ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ right now. We are all going to be swinging between emotion focused coping and problem solving coping sometimes several times a day. Our personal and professional lives have been turned upside down and in a really short space of time. This is a marathon, not a sprint and the challenges and solutions will change as we work our way through this. However, there are things we can all do to keep ourselves well.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness week is kindness which can have a profound impact on staff wellbeing and is one of the simplest and most effective ways to look after ourselves and others.

So, what does kindness look like for us at the moment?

1. Let’s be kind to ourselves

• Look after your physical and mental health: as well as looking after ourselves by eating healthily (most of the time), keeping hydrated and getting enough sleep, we need to make sure we get our downtime too. It can be tempting for all our staff to just keep working and for very long hours. There is always something else to do and we want to support our colleagues. We need our days off and we need our annual leave to enjoy our beautiful island with our loved ones. If we want to continue to deliver or support that excellent care to our patients, their families and our colleagues we need to be able to unscramble our brains.

• Manage this situation in your own way: you know what is right for you. Perhaps you have days when all you want to do when you finish work is collapse on the sofa with a family size bar of chocolate whilst someone else is posting social media about hiking up a hill. That’s okay – your time will come whether it’s hiking up a hill or whatever floats your boat! We’re all managing this in our own way so give yourself a break and don’t compare yourself to others.

2. Be kind to each other

• Find your tribe! You know who makes you feel good, whether that is family, friends or colleagues. Stay connected with those people who inspire and replenish you and play your part in supporting those who are inspired by you!

• Look out for each other and share small successes about what’s gone well. Check in with each other personally at the beginning and end of each shift or working day. Have you noticed that now when we ask someone ‘how are you’, we really want to know the answer? We want to know each other is okay.

Let’s all meet each other where we are at right now and respond to whatever is needed at the time. This isn’t the ‘new normal’, it’s the ‘new temporary’ and we will all get through this together and emerge a bit different but with some new learning and a new sense of community. We all know that excellent patient care is the centre of what we do but don’t forget yourselves and each other. Let’s keep the kindness going.