The sad truth is, people whose professional roles require them to take care of others are often the worst at taking care of themselves. The NHS is groaning under the strain. The NHS is of course, not a thing but a vast complex sprawling system of people. Dedicated staff, be they doctors, nurses, admin staff, or ancillary workers, or the huge body of people behind the scenes.
How well do these people care for themselves? Do we even know how?
As a doctor, I burned out. I crashed. The combination of calamitous personal circumstances and overwork over many years crept up on me. One day at work, I burst into tears. “Oh, Miss Together has fallen apart, ” my fellow doctor callously commented.
Not only do health professionals often exhibit an alarming lack of self-compassion, they can regard those of the “clan” who show signs of weakness as just that. Weak. Failures. Not worthy. Letting the side down.
And so it gets perpetuated. Our internal belief systems about having to be the strong ones, the ones who have to cope no matter what, are reinforced not only by the inner critic in our own heads but the invisible forces of the professional culture.
The outcome? High levels of addiction, burnout, anxiety, depression. All of which go unnoticed, unreported, unaddressed.
The people who make the NHS the amazing service that it is are sacrificing themselves in the misplaced belief that this is what is needed.
Surely, we as health care professionals need to start with ourselves, in a system that not just allows this but caters for it, and provides education for self-care. We as health professionals are the ones to model self-care.
Burnout leads to cynicism, exhaustion, self-deprecation. The feeling that “nothing I do will be good enough”. This feeds the monster of workaholism, a monster that was an essential ingredient in us making it to medical school and getting through it in the first place.
I realised later that the colleague who made that heartless remark when I burst into tears must himself have been pretty unwell to be capable of making such a comment.
Let’s bring the learnable skills of compassion, kindness, and self-care and put them centre-stage in the workplace, wherever that is.
Make Mental Health Matter. In the NHS as much as in any other organisation.
Let’s remember that an organisation is its people. And people need care.