Date of release: 19 May 2020
Welcome back to my weekly blog. This week I want to focus on Mental Health Awareness Week, which is taking place this week. Its theme is kindness, and what better way to advocate this than to be kind to ourselves?
Paying attention to our mental health has never been more important. To be able to look after our patients to the best of our ability, we need to make sure we also look after ourselves. Our mental wellbeing is as important as our physical wellbeing and it is vital that we make sure you get the right support, both now and in the future.
I believe we have to look after our mental health as well as our physical health to stay resilient, particularly during these challenging times as we respond to the COVID-19 crisis. We all know the benefits of looking after our physical health; building exercise into our routines gives us positive feelings from doing something active, both physically and mentally. We also know what happens when we lapse and then get back to it again - it’s harder work and often hurts for a while. Building and maintaining our resilience is an aspect of our own preventative resource, by regularly paying attention to our physical and mental health it’s our investment in ourselves – ‘prevention is better than cure’ as they say.
Over the past few years I have used a meditation app to help me unwind and de-stress and I have done the ‘Couch to 5k’programme, which is designed for beginners to gradually build up their running ability so they can eventually run five kilometres without stopping. I find running is an excellent way to balance my physical and mental health wellbeing and I’ve used a meditation app to help me return to running after a break away from it.
We are all different and different things work for different people. It’s important that we all find our own way to relax away from the stresses of our jobs. That might be meditation, walking the dog, going for a run, a combination of all three, or something else. Whatever it is, you need to give yourself the same care and attention as you give your patients. I can’t believe that anyone who is a nurse hasn’t had a really good cry since the Covid-19 outbreak. It might be something that has happened to a patient you were caring for or the stress of a really difficult, traumatic shift – it’s natural to feel emotion and sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all. In fact I would be quite surprised if any nurse hasn’t experienced fear, anxiety and sadness during the last few months. One thing that made me cry was seeing the brilliant video our ICCU nurses put together, displaying signs about caring, to the tune of the Bill Withers song, ‘Lean On Me’.
So many of us lead busy lives and have stressful jobs and often the last person we think of is ourselves. This can be particularly common in the nursing profession, where the culture is to put others’ needs first. We have introduced more psychological support within the Trust since the start of this crisis and while some colleagues have taken advantage of this support, it remains an under-used resource. With resources available to support our mental, physical and psychological wellbeing to self-care apps and practical help, it can all be found on the new wellbeing page
There’s no shame in reaching out for help; if you feel you cannot make the first step, talk to your line manager who can refer you to the Employee Assistance Programme counselling service (EAP) by simply gaining your consent. The EAP is there to help staff manage all of life’s events, offering emotional and practical support in challenging circumstances with expert advice 24-7, 365 days a year online and by telephone. The service is taking one-off calls and prioritising calls from front line staff recognising that some staff will just want someone to listen or who they can download to at the end of a hard shift. You can call for free on 0800 111 6387 or visit http://www.my-eap.com/, using the username: rwtwell.
Some of our staff have taken the initiative to set up their own calm spaces within their departments to give their team members space and time to refocus, take 10 minutes of pause time or talk with a colleague when the going is tough. The AMU and ICCU have created their own ‘wobble rooms’ to provide colleagues with a safe space during and after shifts. We have established a ‘serenity room’ that is open 24-7 and is available to all staff, opposite the library at the West Midlands Institute (WMI). Please do use this facility as it has been thoughtfully created to be a tranquil and quiet space to recharge, unwind, talk to someone or to just ‘be’.
Evidence and experience from others who have dealt with crisis and traumatic situations is suggesting that we need to pay attention to what has happened, how we have responded, as our team experiences will be very different, and how that experience will shape our behaviours and actions in the future. As a first step, we are arranging a series of virtual sessions for groups of leaders and managers to have the opportunity to talk through the impact of dealing with this crisis as individuals and within our teams; to review the support resources we’ve put in place, have they worked, what did we miss and to start to plan what we do next to support each other and continue to build our resilience. If you are invited to attend one of these sessions, I encourage you to attend and take advantage - your voice and your experience matters.
Last week we celebrated International Nurses Day with a host of events across the Trust that attracted huge engagement on social media. Our ‘lady with the lamp’ tribute to mark Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday with nurses holding candles reached over 13,000 people, while footage of New Cross Hospital’s Emergency Department lit up blue attracted over 600 reactions on Facebook. We also received over 200 positive messages from nurses on the rainbows posted at each of our three hospital sites. Thanks to all those who contributed.
Before signing off I must pay recognition to our wonderful Midwifery team. From a record number of entries overall the MLU were one of four runners-up in the final five in the Royal College of Midwives’ WaterWipes Team of the Year Award. As with all other public events, the awards ceremony had to be cancelled due to Covid-19, however staff on MLU watched the virtual ceremony and announcement via laptop on the unit. As I highlighted recently, the team perform consistently highly at local and national level and I’m sure you will all join me in congratulating them on their deserved success.