How can Mental Health Workers Cope with the ‘New Normal’

(image: Unsplash)

Mental health workers have continued to take care of their patients even in the midst of the recent Covid-19 quarantines and lockdowns. However, there is no doubt that the pandemic has made their job a little more difficult; longer working hours, the threat of infection and redeployments have all placed enormous pressure on working conditions. In addition, due to the nature of their work, many mental health staff are worried about infecting their family members.   

How has Covid-19 affected mental health care?

If you are a mental health worker, you may be worried about how the pandemic will affect the way in which your patients can continue to receive high-quality care. For example, staffing levels may be reduced due to Covid-19 restrictions, sickness or self-isolation requirements. Meanwhile, community support is being cut back, which only makes failed discharges more likely.  

There may also be a fear that you or your patients may unintentionally transmit Covid-19 to other people despite taking every health precaution possible.      

What would you do if a patient exhibited signs of the disease?

Often, mental health patients are unable to understand their condition. Moreover, many healthcare facilities are not even providing the most basic protection (PPE) to staff.   

How can managers and supervisors promote their staff’s well-being?

  • By providing accurate and timely updates
  • By rotating staff so they alternate between very stressful and less stressful duties
  • By buddying-up new recruits with experienced staff 
  • By making sure that every team member takes regular breaks

Coping mechanisms

As a key worker, maintaining your emotional well-being is of paramount importance. According to this article, people working in the mental healthcare sector are often anxious about:

  • The safety of their patients
  • The possibility of infecting others or getting infected themselves
  • The financial impact of the pandemic

One survey has revealed that many nurses are suffering both mentally and physically. 

Stress is an everyday aspect of the job, even without the current Covid-19 crisis. The important thing is to effectively manage your stress as well as your psychosocial and physical status. 

Despite the heavy workload, stress and isolation from your family and loved ones, you need to remain resilient during the ‘new normal’. Days off are essential in order to recharge your batteries, so you should never feel guilty about taking them. Also, make sure you take your assigned work breaks. 

Furthermore, there are various coping techniques that can help. For example:

  • Always stay hydrated
  • Eat healthily
  • Make sure you get enough sleep
  • Maintain social contact, even if it is virtual 

It is also a good idea to stick to tried-and-tested coping strategies, including:

  • Deep breathing
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Regular exercise
  • Being mindful
  • Talking to someone (a family member, co-worker or friend) 

However, it is important that you try to avoid these unhealthy coping practices:

  • Drinking
  • Taking recreational drugs
  • Smoking

Turn off social media

Social media can be a valuable tool for obtaining and sharing information. When it comes to your mental health, it is also a useful outlet for letting off steam. 

However, the negativity that often permeates social networks can also heighten your anxiety so you need to make sure you:

  • Mute any words or phrases that can trigger negative emotions
  • Unfollow or ‘snooze’ offending hashtags, users or groups
  • Set boundaries with regard to the time you spend on social media 

Rumours or speculation can often trigger anxiety. However, accessing accurate and up-to-date information about the virus is the best way of counteracting this problem.   

Conclusion

Although mental health nurses may not be considered to be frontline workers, they still face the same risks. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has made their job even more difficult due to staff shortages and the reduction in community support. There have also been issues with the supply of PPE. Bearing all these issues in mind, it is essential that staff take care of their physical and mental well-being. There are various coping strategies that can help, including getting enough food and sleep, maintaining regular social contact and exercising as often as possible.   

This article was written by a freelance writer.

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