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In2gr8mentalhealth speaks with Unite Following the #appliedpsychologistsmatter lobby of Parliament

Exciting conversations are happening between in2gr8mentalhealth and Unite for Health to increase access to resources for workplace advocacy, where mental health professionals are burning out from working in toxic services who won't listen when concerns are raised. 

Essentially, burnout is described as the deleterious impact of toxic environments on the individual, this could be any work environment not just that of working in mental health services. 

Some of our membership at in2gr8mentalhealth have experienced burnout in very difficult working conditions in the context of underfunded, under resourced services unable to meet the needs of the local community they serve. What happens? Striving. Striving to work to cover the gaps because no one goes into the helping professions to do a mediocre job, it is vocational, especially where the health worker has experienced wounds of their own and are driven to help alleviate pain in others. For some, it is truly a labour of love. The stretch happens when trying to cover what feels like a set of impossible tasks, impossible because the system isn't resourcing the ability to execute them appropriately. Finally, it impacts on their own wellbeing. 

It is key to be able to speak about individual burnout and service fragmentation in the same conversation. Individuals need help to empower them and to voice concerns. Support or advocacy can be vital where little psychological safety is felt in the team or organisation they are working in (see earlier blog 'how to stick your neck out without getting your head chopped off).

Mental health professionals are well versed in boundaries, in these situations, we need to feel supported to stand by them, not internalise the toxicity of those services as our own, nor 'resilience away' the ills of an organisation. 

This process of untangling can feel very difficult to do at the time, we can only keep raising awareness of the impact of toxic systems on the individual as a phenomenon, individualisation of response to this, and increase access to resources for staff to challenge what exactly is burning out, not immediately whom.

This is relevant across professions in health, a quote from a  recent article  in The Guardian about the disputable use of resilience training for staff in Social Work where systems surrounding staff and clients are so stretched.

"focusing on... an individual social worker to build resilience will do nothing to address the structural issues that impact on practitioners’ and service users’ lives."  

Commenting on the findings from the 4th annual New Savoy Conference/British Psychological Society Workforce  Wellbeing Survey  (click on Elisabeth Summers presentation there), Dave Munday, Lead professional officer for mental health at Unite the union stated: Whilst we are concerned to hear of the results from this year's NSP/BPS workforce wellbeing survey, we are not surprised, as this backs-up what our applied psychology members have been telling us. In a survey carried out by Unite last year, member responses included 67% reporting that they had either ‘fairly seriously’ or ‘very seriously’ considered leaving their job, 83% reporting increased workloads and 87% reporting worse morale. Unite remains committed to protecting its members from unhealthy working environments, and believes that staff wellbeing is key to providing high quality mental health services to the public. 

Following from yesterday's #PsychologistsMatter lobby of Parliament, Unite welcomes strengthening relationships with all key stakeholders to support applied psychologists in their work”. 

Support of all health professionals needs to increase across the board, it is an integral part in making sure services users, that's any of us, can have access to health services that are fit to practice. At in2gr8mentalhealth we provide a space online, and soon, in meetings to address mental health professionals' experience of not only burnout, but also of other lived experience they bring to the role. Detangling and destigmatising these experiences is crucial to developing the self as professional and as person, and feeding back to develop healthier services.

Dr Natalie  Kemp

Clinical psychologist in mental health recovery

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