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Meg is an emergency health care worker in Kent who has been working on the front-line treating patients throughout the pandemic. She has kindly given us her valuable insight into… Continue Reading…

Mental Health in the NHS

Meg is an emergency health care worker in Kent who has been working on the front-line treating patients throughout the pandemic. She has kindly given us her valuable insight into life in the eye of the storm.

How have you found working during this third lockdown compared to the first one in March?

If I am being perfectly honest, I cannot even explain how much worse this third lockdown has been. I’ve been treating critically ill patients suffering from Covid-19, and I’ve come home from work crying and feeling absolutely drained just wondering how the situation is ever going to get better. Back in March we were unaware of how bad this pandemic would get, and I think we were all very naive to the situation. March in comparison to the last few months was a walk in the park, and I could not have predicted how bad it has been the last few months.

Have you noticed an impact on your mental/emotional wellbeing since the arrival of Covid in the UK?

Yes, I definitely have. It is hard to tell if it is directly related to Covid as I started my new role in the service at the start of the pandemic, and my new role has different challenges mentally and physically without the added pressure of the pandemic.

Covid has brought me a lot of fear as I am at high risk of getting it due to my job. I worry that I’m going to give it to my family if I were to catch it at work, and even pass it to vulnerable patients if I were carrying it asymptomatically.

Is mental health something that is discussed openly among emergency health care workers? What kind of support structure is your employer providing?

Yes 100% – everyone is so open to discussing any mental health concerns and great for checking in on one another. I think work is so good with welfare because they understand the jobs that we attend every day, and how they can affect our personal lives. Our job is unique in that normal members of the public don’t see death regularly and don’t see sick patients like we do, it’s hard for someone outside of our line of work to relate to.

After especially distressing jobs and events we are offered TRIM meetings which are Trauma Risk Management Meetings to help us cope with distressing things we have experienced, and further counselling is also available if needed.

Also because we all attend mental health emergencies we all understand how integral our mental health is and how important it is to us.

As a first responder you must often be the first to very traumatic events – are you taught any tools for mental resilience, or is this something that you develop with time of the job?

I don’t think anyone could ever mentally or physically prepare you for some of the situations I’ve experienced. I do see a lot of death and it’s not always people passing away peacefully, a lot of the time it can be very traumatic or disturbing.

To begin with I had sleepless nights reliving the horrors of the emergencies I had attended. But the more things I experience, the better mindset I had going to the next experience – it’s not that it affects me less, it’s that I’ve become better with dealing with it.

Detachment is a good tool because relating to jobs and becoming emotionally attached will only cause you to burn-out and become unable to manage.

Being honest with yourself is fundamental as it’s completely natural and normal to feel unable to cope with death and distressing events. No one expects you to be able to handle every situation and take it in your stride. If you are becoming overwhelmed, you need to almost take a step back and help yourself. This is where work colleagues become really important as they understand what jobs you can and can’t attend.

Have the demands of your job affected your life outside of work? 

I would say it has probably affected my personal life as even after my shift has finished, it’s hard not to think about jobs that I’ve been to that day and the patients I’ve seen. Weeks later I will still think about them and wonder how they are doing.

Do you have any tips or advice for coping?

My main advice would be that you don’t always have to cope, there is no problem with saying that you can’t cope with something or you’re not managing well and need to take a step back or seek further help with something.

Before starting my job, I thought I was really strong and that I’ll be able to cope with everything, but this is definitely not the case. No one expects you to cope with everything, so you shouldn’t put that pressure on yourself.

Also, finding a distraction in a hobby can provide some sort of release from the pandemic. Regulate the input you get from the news and social media as it can be harmful in excess.  So instead of on sitting on my phone during breaks, I now crochet as a distraction from everything. Something so simple has really helped me.

 

Interview conducted by Ellie Giardina

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London,
W1W 6NS