Staying sane while keeping other people sane
Posted Friday 13 May 2011
I work in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) clinic. On my caseload are kids who may be starving themselves, who are self-harming or suicidal, who may be subject to child protection concerns. Many of them come to us with a complex mix of psychiatric, social, family and educational problems. That combination of risk and complexity makes it difficult, stressful work.
Mental health professionals are not immune from work-related stress, and they certainly aren't immune from more serious mental health problems either. If you get overwhelmed, it's easy to burn out. A burnt-out clinician is not only risking their own health; they're also no good to their patients either.
There's a few things you can do to avoid burn-out.
Reflection, reflection, reflection – Make use of your colleagues to discuss and reflect on clinical problems. This can be either formally in supervision or team meetings, or informally over a coffee. If a case is worrying you, don't keep your worries to yourself.
Dot your i's and cross your t's – Managing your caseload effectively, ensuring that all risk assessment and risk management has been done and documented...These things aren't just good practice. I've learned that I sleep better at night for knowing that I've fulfilled my responsibilities and haven't left any loose ends. This is particularly true with regard to high-risk patients.
Take your breaks – I know quite a few nurses who will work through all their breaks, and spend a lot of their days off working the nurse bank. I can understand why they do it, but it's important to take time out to unwind and switch off.
Look out for your colleagues – This is perhaps the most important point. If you can see a colleague getting stressed, tell them to take five, make them a cup of tea and be there to listen to them. After all, if you're there for them when they need you, hopefully they'll return the favour someday.
Zarathustra is a mental health nurse and blogger. He currently blogs at The Madosphere.
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