Tackling Mental Heath Stigma at Work

Mental health problems at work cost the UK economy billions each year, and they’re increasingly becoming one of the most common reasons for sickness absence.

Emergency services personnel face unique challenges at work which mean they are particularly prone to developing mental health problems because of their jobs. They have an increasing workload, they face ever increasing demands, and they have to deal with traumatic situations often on a daily basis.

All of this occurs in a culture where having time off is frowned upon and where workers believe that they’ll be discriminated against if they speak out about having poor mental health.

Culture in the emergency services

Emergency services personnel are often referred to as ‘heroes’ and there’s a perception that they are somehow superhuman and shouldn’t be affected by things that happen at work. This is of course, a fallacy. They are human beings, and they are just as prone to mental ill health as everyone else, if not more so.

Research from MIND has shown that even though they are more likely to experience mental ill health, they are less likely to take time off work than the general population. They’re twice as likely to identify work as the cause of their mental health problems, and they believe that they’d be treated less favourably at work if they disclosed that they were suffering.

Organisational factors and poor mental health

Exposure to traumatic incidents is not the only factor that causes poor mental health among emergency services personnel. Organisational factors like constant change that’s badly managed, poor leadership, and a blame culture can all contribute to mental ill health.

Tackling mental health stigma in the workplace

Creating a culture where mental wellbeing is given priority and people feel able to talk about their problems makes people feel supported, and creates opportunities for early intervention. Here are some practical steps that organisations can take to promote a mentally healthy workplace and tackle stigma:

Start from the top: Any change in culture needs to start with management. If managers lead by example, prioritise mental wellbeing, and promote a culture of empathy and understanding, employees are more likely to follow suit.

Create a mental health policy: This will reassure employees that an organisation is aware of the importance of mental wellbeing.

Create a culture of openness: This helps to increase awareness of mental health by encouraging people to talk about it.

Promote healthy working practices: Encourage a work/life balance by introducing programmes like mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and exercise into the working day.

Communicate: Raise awareness of mental health using staff newsletters, posters, training sessions and meetings.

Introduce training: This helps to tackle mental health stigma by increasing awareness and understanding of mental ill health. It can also educate people on how to spot the signs that they, or a co-worker might be becoming ill, and empower them to talk about it.

How we can help

We use our expertise in workforce wellbeing, individual and organisational wellbeing, and performance and trauma management to help front-line emergency services staff become better equipped to manage the pressures and challenges they face. The services we offer include tailored support for personnel, their managers and their families, stress-relieving strategies, and therapeutic interventions.

For more information on our work with the emergency services, contact Maureen on 07939 845920 or via maureen@mocallaghan.co.uk , or contact Kirsty Knight on 07816 923789 or at kirsty@openmindstherapy.co.uk

Staying Well After a Traumatic Incident

Emergency services personnel witness more traumatic incidents in the course of their job role than many people see in a lifetime. The need to respond quickly, calmly, and rationally to incidents like serious road traffic accidents, infernos, and increasingly terrorist attacks means that they are at high risk of experiencing stress.

Symptoms of stress

These can fall into 4 main categories; physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms, emotional symptoms, and behavioural symptoms. Some symptoms might occur immediately after an incident, while some might appear weeks or even months later.

Physical symptoms

Symptoms of shock like shallow breathing, rapid pulse, shivering, pale and clammy skin, and dilated pupils.

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Heavy sweating
  • Thirst
  • Headaches
  • Visual disturbances
  • Body aches and pains

Cognitive symptoms

These can occur at the scene of an incident, which can have repercussions for a worker’s safety, the safety of their colleagues and the safety of those they’re trying to help. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Increased or reduced alertness
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to solve problems or make decisions
  • Memory problems
  • Nightmares or flashbacks

Emotional symptoms

It’s normal to react emotionally to a traumatic situation. Emergency services personnel should have access to support from a mental health professional if they experience emotional distress after an incident, especially if it persists. Symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Denial
  • Grief
  • Fear
  • Irritability
  • Inability to control emotions
  • Depression
  • Feelings of failure
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Blaming others or self for events

Behavioural symptoms

Some personnel might notice that they, or their colleagues display some changes in behaviour following exposure to a traumatic incident, including:

  • Intense anger and emotional outbursts
  • Withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite, eating more or losing your appetite
  • Drinking more alcohol
  • Feeling restless
  • Sexual dysfunction

How to stay well after a traumatic incident

Everyone is different, so people will inevitably react differently after they have gone through a traumatic incident. But however resilient you consider yourself to be, you can take some steps to reduce stress and make sure that you stay well after exposure to trauma.

  • Reach out to others: don’t bottle things up. Having someone to talk to makes a big difference and it will help you to retain some perspective during difficult times.
  • Take time to do things you enjoy to help reduce stress and recharge your batteries.
  • Don’t worry about ‘getting back to normal’: This takes time. Gradually work back up to doing your normal routine and don’t be hard on yourself.
  • Don’t feel guilty for being happy: It’s okay to laugh and feel grateful for what you have.
  • Let your family in: Your loved ones will be there with you after the incident. They’ll see how it’s affected you and you need to talk to them. Mutual understanding and patience will help you to make sense of how you feel, and it will help them to understand how they can best support you.
  • Don’t turn to drugs or alcohol: You might think that they are a way of escaping how you feel but relying on them to cope will bring a new set of problems.
  • Look after yourself: Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eat well, and take regular exercise. Practicing mindfulness and meditating can help to reduce stress, calm the mind, and help you to deal with difficult feelings in a more emotionally balanced way.

How we can help

We use our expertise in workforce wellbeing, individual and organisational wellbeing, and performance and trauma management to help front-line emergency services staff become better equipped to manage the pressures and challenges they face. The services we offer include tailored support for personnel, their managers and their families, stress-relieving strategies, and therapeutic interventions.

For more information on our work with the emergency services, contact Maureen on 07939 845920 or via maureen@mocallaghan.co.uk , or contact Kirsty Knight on 07816 923789 or at kirsty@openmindstherapy.co.uk

Promoting the Mental Health of Personnel in an Emergency Services Setting

 

Emergency services personnel are exposed to trauma sometimes on a daily basis. They also face constantly increasing demands and heavy workloads that even their famous culture of camaraderie can’t protect them from. All of this combines to make them more at risk of stress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD than the general population.

Personnel working in the emergency services might feel that they can’t speak about how they feel due to stigma, and don’t tend to take time off work even if they’re unwell because they feel they are letting their colleagues and the public down if they do.

Promoting mental health in the workplace

Investing in mental health not only makes for a healthier workforce, it makes good business sense. When organisations are proactive about mental health, productivity is higher, employees are more likely to remain with the organisation, there’s less absenteeism, and fewer problems with performance or morale.

Organisations must have mental health and wellbeing strategies in place. Some strategies will be more difficult to implement because of cost or other factors, but some can be introduced with minimal cost.

Promoting the mental health of emergency services: good practice

Be systematic with risk management

Each emergency service deals with a huge range of situations, and so personnel are exposed to a variety of risks that might affect their mental health and wellbeing. Having a risk assessment specific to each service is a good starting point for putting together an effective mental health strategy.

Introduce a mental health strategy

Having a strategy is great, but implementing it into work activities each day, reviewing the plan, and learning lessons from it is where it will really come into its own.

Develop leaders

The actions and behaviours of leaders and managers can influence how personnel might cope with the demands of their job. Good managers will know when someone is struggling, whether it’s with their mental health or something else. Providing training to managers to develop their confidence is essential; whether it’s the confidence to lead effectively in a crisis situation or having a difficult conversation with an employee.

Tackle stigma

This is an issue in the emergency services where personnel might feel they can’t talk about their mental health or how they feel without being judged or bullied in some way. Tackling stigma is not expensive to do; it just requires some understanding and courage to spread the message that it’s okay to not be okay.

Strategies for promoting mental health on the front line

Wellbeing programmes and practices should be integrated into the work routine, like mindfulness programmes, meditation and relaxation sessions, or exercise programmes. Access to mental health support should be promoted and wellbeing measures should be aimed at reducing stress and preventing mental ill health, not just treating it once it’s occurred.

As every emergency service worker is likely to have to deal with a crisis or a traumatic incident, they should be prepared as much as possible for how to manage the incident itself and they should be given support in the aftermath.

Mental health and wellbeing support should not only be offered while someone is in service. Many personnel will have encountered situations during their career that will continue to affect them even years later, so offering support and advice on a long-term basis may also be necessary.

How we can help

We use our expertise in workforce wellbeing, individual and organisational wellbeing, and performance and trauma management to help front-line emergency services staff become better equipped to manage the pressures and challenges they face. The services we offer include tailored support for personnel, their managers and their families, stress-relieving strategies, and therapeutic interventions.

For more information on our work with the emergency services, contact Maureen on 07939 845920 or via maureen@mocallaghan.co.uk , or contact Kirsty Knight on 07816 923789 or at kirsty@openmindstherapy.co.uk

Too Stressed to Care?

 

The Problem of Burnout Among Emergency Services Personnel

Many emergency services personnel suffer from stress and poor mental health. The unique pressures they face in their job role, coupled with feeling unable to tell colleagues they’re suffering, and pressure to attend work even when they’re unwell often leads to burnout. Many personnel eventually leave their chosen profession, and either change careers completely or accept a role that takes them away from the front-line.

The unique pressures emergency service staff face

Emergency services personnel face some unique stressors in their job role:

  • They have no idea what the day will bring: They might have to deal with a fatal road traffic accident, or a serious industrial accident. This uncertainty can be stressful.
  • The stress triggered by an emergency: An emergency causes the body to produce a physical response. The ‘fight of flight’ system is triggered; blood sugar levels rise, the body releases adrenaline, and the blood pressure and heart rate increases. The body might remain in this state for a while, and another emergency might occur in that time. In effect, the body and mind are always in a heightened state of arousal.
  • Tension with colleagues: In a fast-paced environment which has to deal with one crisis after another, there tends to be more tension between people.
  • Frequent exposure to tragedy and trauma: Some people might never witness a traumatic incident in their lifetime, yet many emergency services personnel are exposed to these situations on a daily basis.
  • Fear: This can be fear of going into an emergency situation, or fear of someone taking legal action if they perceive you have made a ‘mistake.’

What is burnout?

Burnout occurs when prolonged exposure to stress causes a significant depletion of your physical and/or your emotional strength. It has such significant effects on a person that they might feel they can’t function normally on a personal or professional level.

Symptoms of Burnout

People who suffer from burnout may get all or some of these symptoms:

  • Feeling drained: Lacking energy every day and dreading the day ahead.
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Physical symptoms: Experiencing chest pains, shortness of breath, digestive problems, and headaches.
  • Becoming ill more often: Stress weakens the immune system, so colds and other infections occur more frequently.
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Anxiety and depression: Feeling burnt out can reduce resilience against stress, so sufferers might feel hopeless.
  • Feeling irritable and tense: Stress can cause irritability and angry outbursts which can affect personal and professional relationships.

How to avoid burnout

Build resilience to stress by looking after your physical and mental health: Exercise regularly, eat well, get enough sleep, and use techniques like mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and calm the mind.

Make use of downtime: do something you enjoy when you’re not at work. It’s easy to cut out enjoyable activities because you’re ‘too tired’ or ‘can’t be bothered’ but taking time for yourself brings essential balance between life and work.

Find support: whether it’s talking to a friend or a trusted colleague, it really helps to have someone to talk to. It helps you to retain a sense of perspective too.

Can burnout be avoided?

Recognising that you’re stressed and managing it is the key to avoiding burnout. If workplaces change their mentality from treating asking for help as a form of weakness, to one that believes in the value of offering comprehensive support to employees suffering from stress, burnout doesn’t have to be inevitable.

How we can help

We use our expertise in workforce wellbeing, individual and organisational wellbeing, and performance and trauma management to help front-line emergency services staff become better equipped to manage the pressures and challenges they face. The services we offer include tailored support for personnel, their managers and their families, stress-relieving strategies, and therapeutic interventions.

For more information on our work with the emergency services, contact Maureen on 07939 845920 or via maureen@mocallaghan.co.uk , or contact Kirsty Knight on 07816 923789 or at kirsty@openmindstherapy.co.uk

Staying Resilient in Difficult Times

 

Everyone faces life-changing and stressful events at some point in their lives. But how do people get through tough times? How do they come back from tragedy, or a life-changing setback?

The answer is that they draw upon their resilience. People survive stressful times because they are adaptable, and they have an ability to become stronger in times of adversity, whether at work or in their personal life.

The unique pressures emergency services personnel face

It’s important to look after your mental health. One in four people will develop a mental health problem every year, and research carried out by Mind shows that emergency services personnel are much more likely to be affected than the general working population. A huge 87.5% of emergency services workers have suffered from stress or poor mental health. This is mainly due to the unique pressures they face, like regular exposure to traumatic incidents, as well as excessive workloads and long working hours. Work-related stress is common, but excessive and prolonged stress can harm mental and physical health.

The effects of chronic stress

Stress can cause physical problems like headaches, digestive problems, and hypertension, and it also weakens the immune system and causes insomnia. Excessive stress has also been linked to depression, obesity, and heart disease. These problems are compounded when people use unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, like drinking alcohol excessively, overeating, or smoking more.

What is resilience and how can it help?

Resilience is the ability to cope with the stresses life throws at us, and to come back stronger. Being resilient can help you to deal with stress, anxiety, and difficult emotions before they turn into more serious mental health problems. Fortunately, resilience can be taught and learned. Here are some ways to develop resilience.

The key to becoming resilient

Being aware and managing your thoughts: Noticing what is going on around you and paying attention to your thoughts. Realising that your thoughts are just thoughts and interpreting your thoughts in a rational way. Your thoughts are not facts, but they have an extraordinary power to control your actions.

When your thoughts are running away with you, it can be hard to make rational decisions. A way to think more rationally about a situation is to think about alternative explanations for the situation.

An example would be if you emailed your manager and they didn’t get back to you. Your mind will offer what it believes is the most obvious reason, based on your experiences and belief system. If you have had a bad experience with a manager in the past or you don’t believe in your own abilities as an employee, you might choose to believe that all managers are ignorant, or they haven’t replied because they don’t like you or think you’re bad at your job. But this explanation might be completely wrong!

Think about alternative explanations which are more likely, such as your manager is extra busy, or they’ve been out of the office all day, and this will help you think more rationally about the situation.

 

 

Knowing when to ask for help: This is not always easy, but knowing when, and how to ask for help is a big part of becoming resilient. Everyone needs help at some point in their lives and being able to reach out to others for support is a great source of comfort and makes any problem seem much more manageable.

Looking after your physical and mental health: This increases your ability to cope with life’s challenges without becoming ill. Taking regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep is crucial for wellbeing, as is cultivating a calm mind using techniques like mindfulness and meditation. Practicing mindfulness can reduce stress by helping you to accept your thoughts and feelings without making a judgment on them.

How we can help

We use our expertise in workforce wellbeing, individual and organisational wellbeing, and performance and trauma management to help front-line emergency services staff become better equipped to manage the pressures and challenges they face. The services we offer include tailored support for personnel, their managers and their families, stress-relieving strategies, and therapeutic interventions.

For more information on our work with the Emergency Services, contact Maureen on 07939 845920 or via maureen@mocallaghan.co.uk, or contact Kirsty Knight on 07816 923789 or at kirsty@openmindstherapy.co.uk