Hello and WELCOME to PsychAssist. This week we have an article from a former mental health support worker who left their job to save their struggling mental health. The individual who wishes to remain anonymous discusses their experience as a support worker in an adult inpatient unit. This has to be one of the most eye-opening articles that we have ever published!
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After finishing my degree, I was eager to start working in mental health and was delighted when I secured my first job as a support worker in a locked inpatient unit. I must admit like many psychology students, I was naïve about mental health, primarily focusing on mainstream mental health problems during my studies. I barely knew anything about personality disorders. You’ll imagine my surprise when during the first hour on the ward a service user pushed passed me to get a tin can so that they could self-harm. I was in shock, and from this point on I doubted whether I could survive in this field. This was followed by a service user saying to me ‘You’ll never survive here, you’re too nervous’. It seemed immediately I was out of my depth. Nevertheless, I persevered and returned to work.
“Luckily the patient survived but I couldn’t shake the thought that I was nearly responsible for a death”
In the following months, the Service users began to trust me, and I began forming trusting therapeutic relationships. I began to become more competent in my role, being able to enforce boundaries, identify risk, and de-escalate service users. However, this type of role always keeps you on your toes. The alarm went off and a patient had tied a ligature and appeared cyanotic. This service user who I had just let in their bedroom to get a picture. I was in shock, I cut the ligature and began first aid. Luckily the patient survived but I couldn’t shake the thought that I was nearly responsible for a death. I began to doubt everything about myself, getting other staff members to follow me when completing my observations. One mistake in this job and somebody could lose their life. At this point I began taking my work home with me, going to bed thinking about work, dreaming about incidents of self-harm and waking up feeling dread.
“not long before the next trend takes over. For my ward, this was food restriction”
I continued to feel anxious and dread for many more months, but even though I was consistently anxious I became more competent. The ward became more settled and my knowledge of individual risk improved. I was having fun at work, I would plan activities with the patients and the overall mood on the ward changed to pro-recovery and positivity. Self-harm incidents decreased. This was short-lived, it’s it’s not long before the next trend takes over. For my ward, this was food restriction, we had several patients decide to stop eating for various reasons. This resulted in many patients being NG fed, a process which many were resistive against. During this stage I began to dislike my work, I would spend over a third of my shift in restraint, getting screamed at, being bit and overall feeling defeated. The physical and mental toll saw many of my colleagues leave or go on sick leave. Throughout this point, I also handed in my notice, however without another job lined up I decided this was unwise.
“after a horrible shift and stopping multiple incidents of self-harm I realised there was lack of emotional support for the staff”
The ward alternated between settled and unsettled so frequently over the next few months, I never knew what to expect day after day. I was hit, kicked, bit, headbutted, spat at, and on one occasion even cut by a service user but I still felt satisfaction from my job. This was until one day, after a horrible shift and stopping multiple incidents of self-harm I realised there a was lack of emotional support for the staff. We were expected to deal with all these traumatic and stressful situations and keep going. I watched many colleagues leave due to stress and health issues during my time and scarily I was one of the longest remaining members of the team. I began to struggle again, but this time I wasn’t alone, my whole team began looking for jobs, we began doing 14-hour shifts without a break because we were consistently understaffed. You could see the enjoyment fade from the team, and all we talked about was work. I had several interviews and was fortunate to be offered another role. I agreed to work my notice period, however with my anxiety out of control, and intrusive thoughts of anger bubbling under the surface. I was burnout and I decided the best course of action was to leave the company early. As soon as I had a few days off, I began to reflect on the job, there were many highs and just as many lows, and I am extremely happy I gained that experience. Now I feel like my old self, my mental health is stronger, and I am excited to move forward.
“I was lucky to be surrounded by an amazing team of RMNs, HCAs and the MDT”
It is worth noting that I did love my job, however, I was not prepared to sacrifice my happiness, my relationships, and my mental health. The job taught me so much about myself, and even though I found it hard, it was an amazing experience. I was lucky to be surrounded by an amazing team of RMNs, HCAs, and the MDT, who kept me going when I was at my lowest.
My advice to those reading this article, if your job begins taking over your life, and affecting your mental health, consider whether it is worth it. There are more important things than gaining the experience because you need it for the doctorate. As mentioned in a previous post ‘NO JOB IS WORTH SACRIFICING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH’.