We see care homes hit the headlines on a daily basis in the current pandemic, often being labelled as the ‘forgotten’ area of the healthcare system.
Care homes up and down the UK shut their doors at the start of the outbreak to protect some of the elderly and most vulnerable people in the UK. But when the doors were closed, did the door shut on the wellbeing of the care workforce behind them?
It is only this week that care home fatalities from coronavirus will be included in the national daily death tolls. Data gathered by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and published by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday 28 April, has revealed that there were over 4,300 deaths in care homes over a two week period. It now appears that deaths from Covid-19 in care and community settings are likely to rise higher than that in NHS hospitals, according to local authority social, care directors (28 April).
With this vicious coronavirus being a threat to so many living in care facilities, especially the elderly, it is vital that care homes protect the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce, who have been subjected to such awful emotional and physical distress. So what can be done to help?
When you’re at work and feeling stressed, follow advice from the Intensive Care Society – stop, breath, then think. Slowing your breathing can slow the stress cycle and re-engage your frontal lobes so you can continue thinking clearly. Avoid using dramatic language, as it can panic your colleagues, and be aware of your mental energy levels as much as your physical limits.
Getting adequate rest and sleep is vital to good health. This can be difficult if you have irregular shift patterns, but do your best. Aim to take regular breaks while you’re at work and keep reasonable working hours where possible. Talk to your manager so they can ensure you do take these breaks.
The benefits of being well-rested include reducing stress and anxiety levels, and putting you in a positive headspace so you can maintain better relationships. If you feel good, you’re likely to treat others better as well – which will make all the difference for your care home’s residents too. You will likely notice a different in your mood when you’re fully rested and had time to ‘switch off’ from work.
Keep in touch
Feeling connected to others is essential in any care role. So, incorporate supervision and peer support into your working routine. Reach out to colleagues, your manager, and others you trust for social support – you may all be experiencing similar things and can be empathetic to how you feel. Reduce the feeling of isolation by talking to friends and family often.
You should regularly check in on yourself for your own wellbeing. Ask yourself “Am I OK?” if the answer is “no”, then seek help from family, friends, work or medical experts if necessary. You can also find support online, such as on Elefriends, an online community from the mental health charity MIND.
Reach out to others for their mental wellbeing as well – especially if you are a team leader or line manager. Ensure your staff know where to find access to mental wellbeing and psychosocial support services, such as support on social distancing for families, and provide advice on self-care strategies to help reduce stress.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Avoid unhelpful coping strategies like tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, or drug use – these can make your mental and physical wellbeing worse in the long run.
Use methods of stress reduction that have had a real impact in your life before – you’ll need these now more than ever. Try to continue any routine you have, as closely as possible. Maintaining a daily routine will help you feel more in control. It also allows you to cope with change better, gives room for things that are important to you (such as forming healthy habits), and reduces stress levels.
Eating healthily can keep you energised for longer as well as boost your mood. Eat meals that include plenty of vegetables and nutrients to achieve a well-balanced diet. Swap sugary snacks when at work, which may give you a temporary sugar high followed by a mood crash, for smoothies, fruit or nuts, which will give you more energy for longer.
While social media can be a great way to stay connected, it can be a source of an overwhelming amount of information – and disinformation. Prolonged use of social media can also be linked to anxiety and depression. Try to limit yourself to read information at one or two set times a day, rather than a constant stream.
Stay well-informed by finding information from reliable sources, and be careful of rumours and scaremongering, which are rife in a crisis. News channels, official social media accounts and the government website are likely to have accurate information. But be critical and think about the context – double check facts against other sources.
Lastly, keep focussed on the bigger picture – how you are helping patients and residents in your care home through the current crisis through the fantastic work you are doing – and try to avoid social media scrolling on negativity.
It is understandable to feel anxious and stressed while working in care homes during this crisis. However, this is no reflection on your ability to do your job. What is important is that you put your mental wellbeing on par with your physical health, as suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as you continue to do your best for residents, their relatives, your work colleagues and yourself.