Looking after your mental health
As a leader managing your mental health is very important. However, this can be very difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly it may be very hard to find time to look after yourself as a patient group leader due to caring and family responsibilities or other professional responsibilities. Secondly, as a leader you are not only responsible for looking after your own mental health, but you are also responsible for looking out for others in your team and making sure they are okay too. It is therefore important that leaders are able to look for signs in themselves and in others to make sure everyone is okay and there are positive approaches to mental health in the culture of their organisation. If the leader of an organisation pushes for this approach, then they set a positive example for others to look after and take time for themselves if they need to.
The steps that have already been discussed will help to contribute to an open workplace culture and a trusting team, but there are other more specific steps you can take to look after yours and your team mental health.
- Use your self-awareness to be aware of your own feelings and mental health. Don’t just rely on standard indicators of mental health but figure out what is normal for you and what doesn’t feel so great. If you are aware of your feelings, then you will know better when to pull back from the things that are calling stress and are in a better position to ask for help from others. Don’t just presume that what you are feeling is ‘normal’ or that you don’t want to make a fuss as everyone’s mental health matters.
- Physical well being promotes good mental health. It is important that leaders factor in time to get good sleep, breaks, balanced meals and exercise. Regular exercise can both treat and prevent depressive symptoms. Although some days this can be really difficult due to other concerns and responsibilities it is important to maintain as much as possible. It is also important to figure out what stress relief methods work for you and to utilise these in times of stress to aid your own mental well being.
- Talk about your feelings. If you are able to, talking about things with others can be a really effective form of relief. Ask people in your support network if you can talk to them or you could even schedule in calls to catch up on a regular basis.
Ask for help if you need to. This doesn’t have to be help from your friends or family if you are scared of burdening them, there are plenty of external services you can reach out to also. Local support groups can be really helpful if you are struggling with a specific thing, meanwhile your GP may be able to refer you to a counsellor if you feel that you need more anonymous conversations about your mental health.
- Take a break. It is important to take breaks away from work responsibilities, this may be difficult as there is often no or few breaks from caring responsibilities. This means breaks may have to be more managed so that there is a set period of time each day where time is dedicated to being alone, relaxing activities or hobbies that you enjoy.
- Do things you’re good at or spend time on hobbies outside of work. Patient group leaders often spend most of their time thinking about how to care for others and this leaves little time for them to enjoy things for themselves, therefore it is important that leaders take time to do things that they enjoy such as hobbies, learning new skills and achieving goals outside of work. Hobbies can help us to connect with others, develop new friendships and discover opportunities. They are also great stress relievers as they take your mind away from anything that could be causing stress and anxiety at work.
- Re-frame unhelpful thoughts. The way that we think, feel and behave are linked and sometimes we develop patterns of thoughts or behaviour that are unhelpful to us. Recognising these unhelpful patterns can help us to change them to have a more positive outlook. A way to influence negative thought processes is by recognising, challenging and replacing them through the catch it, check it, change it approach. With practice this can help us look at issues through a new perspective and be kinder to ourselves by replacing negative thoughts and emotions with positive ones. Try and think what you would say to a friend to help them if they were experiencing the same thoughts and apply that advice to yourself.
Looking after your teams mental health
- Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms. If you know how different mental health problems present themselves then it is more likely that you will recognise signs in your team and be able to get help faster.
- Familiarise yourself with policies. Make sure you understand your organisations policies in relation to mental health and well being, including sickness absence and health and safety. Make sure these are distributed to all team members and are located somewhere easily accessible. If possible, make sure there is a designated person that the team knows they can go to if they have problems. If your organisation does not have these policies in place it is important to take some time to develop them especially if you have paid staff. It may also be worth considering creating an organisational safeguarding policy for both staff and service users, so that everyone is aware about what will happen if a disclosure takes place.
- Show your team that their well-being matters to you. Encourage staff to work sensible hours and take full lunch breaks and breaks in the day if they are overwhelmed. Show them that you are available to talk about any problems they may have or adjustments they may need. Wellness action plans can be a good way to start conversations about mental health in the workplace. They should be reviewed regularly and will look different for different individuals.
- Help your team prioritise their workloads and feel confident to work effectively. If your team are struggling with their workload help them by delegating less or aiding them to pick out priorities. Ask regular questions about how they are coping with their work and help them if they need it.
- Provide training. If possible, encourage your team to become savvy about their own mental health. This can be done through meetings on the subject or attending face to face or virtual training in topics such as mental health and building resilience. If everyone is aware of the signs and symptoms it makes for a more prepared organisation when it comes to mental health.