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Where Prince William leads, maybe we can follow…

Caffeine and contemplation

Dominique Thompson

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

AdobeStock_92123784_mh.jpgThere are a lot of figures bandied about when it comes to working days lost to mental ill health, so I will go with the Office for National Statistics figures; 15.8 million days lost to anxiety, depression and stress in the UK, in 2016.

And we all know that working in NHS primary care is stressful!

So my question for you is this… do you have a mental health strategy for your workplace, or a lead team member for ‘employee mental health’?

Mental health in the workplace is very much in the news at the moment, with Prince William leading the headlines and launching a new initiative earlier this month, and that is a good thing, but it’s not just for the big corporations who employ 500 people or more. It matters for all of us.

Mental ill health is the 3rd most common cause of time off sick, after minor illness and musculoskeletal problems. It is something that is definitely talked about more in society as stigma slowly reduces, but whilst we are all very aware of policies for manual handling and protecting our backs, what are we doing to protect our emotional or psychological wellbeing at work?

Reception staff can often bear the brunt of patient or carer distress, our nursing teams work tirelessly with complex and challenging patients, and GPs are the people who sit where the buck stops - patient (and sometimes staff) complaints, distress, pain and risk. Other staff such as practice managers and clinical team members cannot be forgotten, standing shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues, bearing the brunt of human demands, and sometimes anguish. We know this, so what can we do to support each other, and also show our primary care team colleagues that their mental health matters?

By taking the time to draft a simple practice strategy for team mental health, and naming a lead team member, plus allocating time to setting up some resources, sharing useful online support or talking about wellbeing in team meetings, practices might well see a disproportionate appreciation from staff, who may feel more cared for and positive about their working environment.

In a time of workforce pressure and when primary care colleagues are leaving the profession because of stress, making a clear and positive statement about your team’s mental health will be valued, and may make your practice a better place to work. Signposting to counselling, or local LMC or national psychological support services will take a matter of seconds, but will make a bold statement, if sensitively framed, about the importance of everyone in the team’s welfare.

There are now some excellent resources and websites to help organisations to improve wellbeing at work, and they can guide you in the development of your own strategy or policies. Sharing these websites with your team will let them know you are thinking of them, and aiming for a preventive approach, not waiting till things go wrong and people go off sick. And if you particularly like evidence-based approaches then check out the What Works Wellbeing website, with a section on workplace mental health.

Dedicating a practice meeting to staff wellbeing and sharing ideas for future self-care at work, such as team bake days, or doing a 5k run together for a shared charity, or wearing Christmas jumpers for Save the Children on December 14th (National Christmas Jumper Day – who knew?!) can bring humour and fun into the workplace, alongside encouraging activities that are good for our emotional wellbeing.

So if you’d like to ensure that you and your team try to stay well (and don’t become an ONS statistic), maybe it’s time to put workplace wellbeing first, and your patients will benefit too!

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Dominique Thompson

Dominique has been a student health GP since 2000, developing innovative new services to treat eating disorders and personality disorder in primary care. She was the GP member of the NICE Eating Disorders Committee 2017. She was a Pulse ‘GP hero’, in 2014, and a ‘Rising Star’ in 2016. Dominique writes about young adult wellbeing and mental health, in both the medical and non-medical press. Her latest adventure is as an independent consultant in student health and wellbeing www.buzzconsulting.co.uk. She is fuelled by caffeinated drinks.
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