It has become pretty clear in recent times that health practitioners are no less subject to mental health problems than the people they treat. More so perhaps! Why might that be?
Grace Under Pressure
I saw a production of a new play just recently at the Seymour Centre in Sydney. Called “Grace Under Pressure”, the play was a patchwork of stories from interviews with 30 people who work, or have worked, in the health industry – mostly medical graduates but nurses and emergency workers as well. I went with a friend whose stories contributed significantly to the text and, for her, it was a harrowing but ultimately therapeutic experience to hear her words and her story coming out of someone else’s mouth. You can listen to excerpts from the play on the episode of RACP”s Pomegranate Health podcast entitled “Being Human” which is available via the podcast app on your phone.
The experience of seeing the play was not uplifting! While at the end there was an attempt to finish on a positive note, briefly discussing the more satisfying aspects of a career in medicine, the impact of the negative stories could not be erased. Stories of bullying and harassment, of unreasonable expectations from the workplace, from patients and from themselves; of young graduates being expected to cope unaided with dire situations and of failure of the system to support them as they tried to learn their trade.
What Can We Do?
Medicine is a difficult career choice. The system does not make things any easier. Once upon a time we were rewarded and soothed by the respect and gratitude of the community and our patients, but things aren’t quite so simple anymore. The community’s expectations have risen in inverse proportion to its respect for the profession.
We need to do what we can to fix the system, but until the system responds we need to do everything we can to support ourselves and each other. Dr Tim Senior makes an excellent case for doing just that in an article in a recent edition of the British Journal of General Practice
As practitioners we all need, just as our patients do, to learn strategies to keep ourselves well. It may be any of a vast range of things -travel or exercise, meditation or painting in oils, gardening or baking, spending more time with our families or having more time on our own, talking to friends or talking to a health professional. Whatever it is for you, honour it. We were not born with a stethoscope around our necks, we are whole people and the whole of us needs nurturing for us to do the best job we can for those who depend on us.
If you need a little push in the right direction to learn some skills to help you cope take a look at some of the modules in myCompass. With 14 modules including “Managing Stress and Overload and “Increasing Pleasurable Activity” you are sure to find something that will be relevant to you. Its free to use and absolutely confidential.