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Feelgood factor: how staff working in mental health stay positive

Posted on 5/07/2017 by


Healthcare staff talk about how they cope working with mental health patients

The therapeutic effects of helping others have long been celebrated among charitable people. And that feelgood factor has driven many people to start careers in the healthcare sector. Yet, when support workers, nurses or occupational therapists working in mental health encounter service users with harrowing pasts or difficult behavioural challenges, isn’t it difficult to not take work home with them? Nick Mitchell spoke with mental health professionals at South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to find out.

At its main bases in Stafford and Shrewsbury, the trust provides services for members of the public and offenders with mental health problems and learning disabilities; it also has a dedicated mother and baby unit. Many of its services – which include support for people with substance misuse problems and eating disorders, community mental health and prison healthcare – are offered across the UK. Staff at the trust say the secret to delivering great care in emotionally challenging situations is a combination of a strong sense of selflessness and good clinical supervision – essentially, a form of therapy for healthcare workers.

“Because of the nature of the patients we work with, there is a need for us to have clinical supervision,” says band 6 mental health nurse Gill Hart who works in the inclusion directorate, delivering prison-based services. “So I have regular one-to-one clinical supervision outside of the prison with a member of the trust who I know I can open up to.”

Clinical supervision lets us explore how we feel about working with particular individuals

Gill Hart, band 6 mental health nurse

Contemporary healthcare literature suggests that many of the claims for the positive effects of clinical supervision are unsubstantiated but a number of studies (pdf) demonstrate the opposite. For staff at SSSFT, the number one mental health trust in England for employee satisfaction, its benefits are significant.

“[Clinical supervision] lets us explore how we feel about working with particular individuals because some of the crimes they’ve committed aren’t nice and you do sometimes take [the work] away with you. So you need that outlet in order to vent and talk through it and put it back in its box so you can nurse the patient and forget about the crime,” says Hart.​

Band 6 mental health nurse Gill Hart talks about helping a patient turn their life around.

It’s not just those dealing with patients with severe mental health conditions that receive this. The service user might be experiencing something as relatively simple as social anxiety, but the commitment to the clinical supervision of their health worker is no less thorough.

Laura Fox, a support worker at SSSFT, recalls a particular patient who she feels proud to have helped. “She was very, very quiet at first and couldn’t maintain eye contact. I’d lived with anxiety myself and had actually been a service user at the trust before working here, so I related to her issues.

“I worked with this girl over a number of weeks. We did a lot of wellness planning; I shared my own coping strategies and then it got to the point where she actually went and got a job.”

We have systems and processes in place to make sure that you have the support that you need

Alison Bussey, director of nursing and chief operating officer

Fox adds: “My mental health problems took a lot of years from me. And, as much as I’m given lots of peer support and supervision, my colleagues also regularly come to me for advice, especially about things like the most effective ways to discharge a service user. They get me involved and use my lived experience as a platform for their ideas.”

Similarly to Fox, many others working at the trust had either started out as service users or had friends or family who had undergone treatment for mental health issues. Yet, regardless of their backgrounds or personal reasons for getting into the sector, staff at SSSFT are provided support to manage their mental health. Steve Martin, a ward manager at the trust, says this is an integral part of their process.

“Part of having the psychological support on the wards for the staff, managerial supervision and a greater coaching culture, is about helping our staff to become more resilient. Ultimately, it’s making them better practitioners and improving patient care.”

The value of ensuring that staff members are protected from what she calls “the emotional burden of care” is something that director of nursing and chief operating officer at SSSFT, Alison Bussey, takes very seriously. It’s under her leadership that the trust has embraced this culture of bolstering its staff emotionally to allow them to deliver outstanding patient care. Bussey comes from a general nursing background, so she knows not only what motivates people to come into the sector, but what enables them to perform effectively in it.

“There will be times when it just feels a little bit overwhelming and, if that is the case, we have systems and processes in place to make sure that you have the support that you need.”

Click here to find out more about the trust and its work turning lives around.

Credit: Content on this page is paid for and produced by the South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Source: The Guardian