Trust, tell and ask for help

Why self-care is the solution to ‘running on empty’
Written by Ray Jenkins

Why self-care is the solution to ‘running on empty’

Same storm, different boat

Emerging from the pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll on the mental health and wellbeing of staff and service users. People frequently say we were all in the same boat, but I say we might all have been in the same storm, but our boats were very different.

Our ability to handle the stresses and strains of Covid was influenced by the inner resources we began with. If we are ‘running on empty’, we are bound to sell a service user short by not giving 100%. Good mental health is fundamental to our ability to effectively support those we work with.

Permission to ask for help

Now I am not a psychologist, but I know I am someone who dealt with their mental health issues in the past through the compulsive use of substances, people and obsessions, with no consideration of the consequences for myself or others. Two old sayings were drummed into me when I was growing up: “never wash your dirty laundry in public” and “you made your bed now lie in it”.

Realising that I needed to do the precise opposite of this to recover my mental health changed my life. Now I believe the capacity we have to support and care for others relies primarily on self-care; on our ability to externalise our feelings and ask for help. Noticing when we are ‘running on empty’ and taking time to refill the tank is crucial. We should apply the same principles to ourselves as we do when we support service users: trust, tell and ask for help, because we can’t do this on our own.

This is about far more than staff supervision and reflective practice or asking for service user feedback (the minimum anyone should do). It is about culture, opportunity and ensuring everyone understands they have permission to reach out and ask for help when the waters get choppy! These fundamental ideas are expressed in our core values.

External help

We realise we can only do so much internally to support people’s vital mental health and wellbeing. So we have commissioned Spectrum Life to provide us with additional external resources to help staff weather the storm and keep their boat afloat.

Our staff can now access a comprehensive Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) with 24/7 mental health support and one-to-one counselling, delivered by qualified therapists and wellbeing health professionals.

We want staff to understand that self-care – asking for help – is fundamental to their own wellbeing and their ability to give service users the support they need and deserve.