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A Helping Hand for Healthcare ‘Heroes’

It’s time to start changing the narrative and showing society and the health system, that healthcare workers are not superhuman and it’s OK that they need support too.

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We’ve witnessed the struggles of our colleagues in America, Europe and Asia as health systems struggle to cope under the pressure of COVID-19. In Australia, we’ve largely been able to suppress COVID and stop it from overwhelming our health system, but it has still had a large impact on the health and wellbeing of health professionals.

It’s been tough for a while

Even prior to this global crisis, healthcare workers have been doing it tough and experiencing higher rates of burnout and mental illness compared to other professions. Often it feels that we’re expected to be superhuman and our difficulties tend to be forgotten by the larger population. Even the slogan that has been widely adopted during the pandemic – Healthcare Heroes – carries the connotation that we aren’t supposed to show vulnerability and must sacrifice ourselves on the ‘front line’ in the war against COVID.

Whilst we spend our professional (and more times than not, our personal) lives caring for others, there has always been a gap when it comes to who cares for the carers. We know that we should have our own GP and take steps to make sure we have a support system in place should we become unwell. But how many of us actually do?

I must admit I’m guilty of neglecting these basic needs and then becoming too busy in a new job to think about having someone to care for me, putting it on the backburner and feeling like it’s somehow wrong to think about my own needs. The needs of other people begin to outweigh my own. We start to believe that because we work in health, we are immune to illness. But that facade can only last for so long before it all comes crashing down. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Eventually something’s got to give. And often, when that time comes, things have progressed beyond the early intervention stage.

What makes our jobs so stressful?

There are many issues that contribute towards job stress and burnout in our profession. I am no stranger to this - first as a medical student and then as a doctor. Working to the point of illness is part of the culture of medicine but this is something I feel passionately about changing.

From my own experiences I’ve learnt:

  • I am not alone
  • Discussing this with others doesn’t make me weak but is helpful for myself and my colleagues
  • There will always be things that are out of my control
  • Making my own health and wellbeing a top priority is one thing I can control

Enter Hand-n-Hand

These realisations prompted my colleagues and I to develop a pre-clinical peer support network for healthcare workers across Australia and New Zealand, called Hand-n-Hand Peer Support.

COVID-19 provided the opportunity to launch our network, but this initiative has been needed for many years. We provide a safe space, where healthcare workers can share similar lived experiences with their peers and realise they are not alone in their struggles.

Peer support is about reducing the stigma of asking for help and changing the ‘healthcare hero’ narrative. It’s a simple strategy that might seem almost too simple for some. Yet it’s one I wish that had been around for me and my colleagues when we experienced our hardships.

There’s no need to be a hero. There’s no need to keep pushing yourself. Now is the time to start changing the narrative and showing society that we are humans too.

To get help or volunteer to help, if you are a health professional in Australia or New Zealand, contact Hand-N-Hand Peer Support Network via the website www.handnhand.org.au or all the usual social media platforms.

 

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Dr Tahnee Bridson

Dr Tahnee Bridson

Dr Tahnee Bridson is founder and president of the Hand-N-Hand Peer Support Network. She is currently a Stage 2 Psychiatry Registrar at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

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