May 21 2020

#MentalHealth Awareness Week

Nicky Lambert, Associate Professor in the Department of Mental Health and Social Work at Middlesex, encourages focusing on our mental wellbeing and looks at the mental health of current NHS staff.

We are in the middle of #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek  and this is an excellent time to think about this year’s theme:  #KindnessMatters. The focus for the campaign was originally going to be sleep, but in this socially distanced world, which has shown how precarious things can be, kindness could not be more important.

Graffiti of nurse wearing a mask and making her hands form a heart in front of her

This crisis has brought out the best in many of us. Communities have come together to help each other and friends and families are taking time to connect and noticing how much they miss each other. A sudden shock can make us reevaluate our choices, but the shock of this pandemic is passing.

Being anxious gets tiring, we get used to it and it gets boring. We notice that the summer we had expected is passing us by; the anticipation of sports, holidays, graduations are all gone now. We are at the stage when old habits reassert themselves, people get grumpy and complain and tempers can fray.

This is when the importance of practising kindness kicks in – it’s not something that comes naturally to everyone, all the time. It takes intention, and it takes well, practice! 

Practice good mental health wellbeing

As a mental health nurse of twenty years standing, I’d like to make a plea that you take some time out this week to consider your mental health in the same way that you monitor your physical wellbeing. Many of us have noticed that we are less physically active because of lockdown, not eating or sleeping well because of our worries and we are starting to take steps to readjust.

During this # MentalHealthAwarenessWeek please take some time to think how you support your mental wellbeing as well and purposefully do something every day to be kind to yourself and the people round you.

Mental health of NHS front line staff

This is a concerning time for everyone. For the 1.4 million NHS staff, it’s not only worrying, but it’s also a confusing and sometimes frightening experience. On one hand the public are literally applauding their efforts and there is praise for staff working in challenging situations and putting the wellbeing of others before their own. However longstanding issues of poor pay and staff shortages have been compounded by dangerous working conditions due to a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) particularly in the early days of this crisis.

Not only are staff dying as a result of caring for people with COVID-19, those deaths are falling disproportionately on the BAME community who make up a significant part of London’s heath staff.  Those who are unable to be with their colleagues on the front lines of practice because of their own health status or carers responsibilities can feel guilty. Those who find themselves described as ‘heroes’ and ‘angels’ sometimes struggle to process their negative feelings. It can be hard to be open about feeling despair or fear when you are expected to be superhuman. It may also lead to ‘moral injury’ (the psychological impact of bearing seeing things or having to make decisions that violate one’s everyday moral expectations).

What support is being offered?

 A mental health hotline has been launched for NHS staff to receive support and advice (tellingly it’s staffed by volunteers). However staff in Mental Health and Social work and Nursing departments at Middlesex University are also rising to this challenge. 

We are working with The Pan London Practice Learning Group and others to develop resources for the capital’s nursing students as they take up an extended placement to help staff our health services.

A request from a local trust led to a joint project between MDX nursing staff and My Care Academy who developed free online resources to support staff who needed to learn new skills to offer care after death for patients suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

For the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, we were to host the prestigious International Mental Health Nursing Research Conference. Obviously a conference is not possible this year but our Centre for Coproduction in Mental Health and Social Care have helped develop a solution in the shape of an innovative collaboration between @Unite_MHNA @WeMHNurses and @MHNRconf. By using a range of social media channels, the Centre will bring a range of mental health speakers to new listeners, connect up colleagues and celebrate the work of mental health staff at this challenging time.

What next

The last few years have discouraged us all from making predictions, but our staff and academics will continue to be flexible in the support of our students and to ensure they have access to the best quality online learning.

We will use our expertise to be responsive to the needs of front line services and help to build and sustain the health and social care communities that we all rely on in these challenging times.

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