Taking Care of the Caretakers
In a recent article, Dr. Zaid Al-Najjra, medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection, advises GPs on what course of action to take if they suspect that one of their colleagues is dependent on alcohol. Even though the GMC guidance states:
‘All doctors have a duty to raise concerns where they believe that patient safety or care is being compromised by the practice of colleagues or the systems, policies, and procedures in the organisations in which they work. They must also encourage and support a culture in which staff can raise concerns openly and safely.’
The reality is that it is often much tougher for GPs to bring the potential misdeeds of their colleagues to the attention of the GMC.
Dr. Al-Najjra then goes on onto outline several solutions to this problem, but what principally interests me about this piece is that it deals with a very real issue in the healthcare industry and the mental health industry specifically: what happens when the caretakers need to be taken care of.
Mental ill health is a surprisingly common phenomenon for a large part of the workforce
It can be hard for patients to reconcile that GP’s or mental health professionals are not perfect, that they can succumb to the same mental health speed-humps and illnesses. For the mental health professionals themselves, this can be an even more difficult obstacle to navigate. Here one is supposed to be the expert, the bastion of reason, a pillar of resilience. To admit fallibility or to ignore it both could lead to disastrous outcomes.
Those who work in the mental health industry are not immune to mental health problems. In fact the long hours, personal responsibility, and unexpected challenges of working in the industry can place extraordinary stress on the individuals who work there. I’ve seen that firsthand, not only at the medical hospitals where I once worked, but also in my own rehabilitation institutions. Instead of being viewed as landmines that one may or may not come across, mental health problems need to be viewed as storms that given the right combination of certain factors will occur. I’m not advocating for a fatalistic or learned helplessness sort of thinking. I’m advocating for a stance of preparation. Of awareness. Of understanding.
Just as we are taking strides toward combatting the stigma against mental health in our every day roles, so must we target the stigma against mental health for mental health care providers.
It’s a lot easier to weather a storm if you know to wear rain boots and bring an umbrella beforehand.
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Originally published at brendan-quinn.net.