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World Mental Health Day

World mental health day this week was focused on psychological first aid and supporting people in distress.  There have been stories in the media, website links and other resources and information on this area which I am sure many of you will have seen. 

I started to wonder about the prevention side of supporting people.   It is well known that early intervention can prevent problems getting worse and that good psychological intervention is effective in helping people manage their difficulties more effectively and also in preventing psychological distress in the future.  What do we do to prevent mental health problems in the first place?  Some of the solutions are about social factors such as housing, finance, education and opportunity as well as loving and nurturing relationships early in life to support children to develop and flourish and grow into adults who do the same.  

So how does this affect us as psychological professionals?  Our work is predominantly focused on individuals and families in helping them manage their difficulties more effectively and helping people deal with the impact of what has happened to them.  Sometimes our work is with our fellow psychological professionals who are not immune to the effects of difficult experiences or situations.  As a group of professions (and like many in mental health services and the wider NHS), we are not very good at seeking help.  Studies have shown that staff within the NHS feel they should be able to cope and can blame themselves if they struggle with the work of caring and helping people.    The emotional impact of caring and also the emotional effect of witnessing and intervening with distressed people is also well recognised.  Concepts such as burnout and vicarious trauma are well-known.  However, it is not routine for us to share our feelings and the impact some of the people we see can have on us.

What could change to make this better?  There are many different things that can help.  These include the more structured such as supervision, reflective practice, Schwartz rounds; and the more social such as making a tea or coffee for a colleague, sitting down for a brief conversation, going for a walk, looking at nature.   What they all share is making the time to do these things whether it’s for only for a few minutes or an hour.   As well as psychological first aid, perhaps we should also have something focused on prevention and also on nurturing our psychological health.  I’m not sure what we would call this – ‘psychological sustenance’? I’m sure there are better words.

Regardless of what we call this, what really stops us sustaining ourselves?  I’m sure there are many psychological professionals who do sustain themselves but there will be many (including me) who could do better.   So what are we going to do differently?

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