Blog: Supporting the mental health of NHS and key workers
Published: 18 May 2020
Frontline staff wellbeing champion Dan Farnworth offers his advice for protecting your mental health during lockdown
"We have all pulled together to deal with the challenge. Retired colleagues have come back to help out and students have stepped up to support our patients" - Dan Farnworth, Fellow
Life on the frontline of the NHS and emergency services is quite a peculiar place to be at the moment. As frontline workers, and as a society as a whole, we are living life in a way we would never have imagined six months ago. As a paramedic for the NHS, I have witnessed the emotional toll that working in the emergency services can have on your mental wellbeing. I would like to share some advice for those struggling with their mental health during this time.
Previous experiences have taught me to always be mindful of what I am doing and dealing with at work, ensuring that my wellbeing remains a top personal priority. One of my best coping mechanisms at work is being prepared and understanding what is happening in any given situation I am faced with. For example, if I go to someone having a heart attack, I understand the science behind what is happening to them. This makes it easier for me and helps me deal with the incident a little better.
But recently things have been very different. As the global pandemic swept the world, it was difficult to grasp what was going on, and we definitely didn’t fully understand the science behind it. This left some frontline workers, including myself, feeling hugely underprepared to help our patients and service users.
Despite this, we have all pulled together to deal with the challenge. Retired colleagues have come back to help out and students have stepped up to support our patients. This makes me incredibly proud to be able to play my small part in this incredible response we are providing.
There is hopefully light at the end of the tunnel now. But we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, I will continue to be mindful of my wellbeing and encourage others to do the same. Here are some techniques that everyone can use, not just frontline workers, to look after their mental health at the moment.
1. Keep physically active
Exercise is a great way to look after your mental wellbeing. Try to get outdoors if you can and breathe in some fresh air. Alternatively there are lots of home workouts you can do.
2. Keep your mind active
Reading, writing, drawing, painting or learning to play a new instrument are great ways to keep your mind active during this difficult time. I personally enjoy writing and it helps to express my thoughts and feelings.
3. Take a break from the news and social media
We all feel the need to stay up to date with the news, but watching it all the time isn’t great for your mental wellbeing. Also, try to avoid fake news on social media and stick to trustworthy sources.
Sleep is incredibly important as it helps us to recover from mental and physical exertion. Good quality sleep also allows you to de-stress and can improve concentration, so you can deal with challenges more easily. There are lots of great services out there to support you, such as your GP and organisations such as www.sleepstation.org.uk.
Opening up and talking about the way you are feeling is important. When I went through some of my most difficult times, it was talking that really helped – the old saying that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ couldn’t be more true. If you’re not sure who to turn to, or feel that you can’t talk to people close by, remember there are amazing people waiting to support you at services such as www.samaritans.org.
My Churchill Fellowship took me to the USA to explore health and wellbeing support for emergency services personnel. I have since published a book 999: My Life on the Frontline of the Ambulance Service, where I share my own experiences of dealing with mental health challenges while working on the frontline.