We all know how physically taxing the role of a healthcare worker can be. From monitoring multiple patients in a day, providing the right care for patients in clinical or home settings, to offering well-being support to their families. These unsung heroes wear multiple hats in the workplace and often for extremely long hours.
When the Covid-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic three years ago, this only intensified and heightened the mental distress and repeated trauma that healthcare workers were already experiencing. There is emotional exhaustion, anxiety, burnout, lack of work-life balance, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and symptoms of depression-among many other things.
While there are multiple studies that back up this claim, you don't need scientific research to prove that this is true. Simply ask a local healthcare worker and let their experience show you the facts.
When to seek help & signs to look out for
The moment something is stopping you from functioning well at work and interfering with your personal life, that should be the first sign that you need to seek help for your mental health.
Unlike physical symptoms and ailments, struggles with mental health don't always manifest in ways that are noticeable to all. With the demanding nature of a healthcare worker's job, it's easy to ignore the signs and symptoms, which could lead to even more detrimental effects on your wellbeing.
When it comes to one's mental wellbeing, some common warning signs and symptoms that healthcare workers should look out for include:
- Constantly feeling irritable and angry
- Constantly feeling anxious and stressed
- Constantly feeling physically tired and having low energy for extended periods of time
- Experiencing compassion fatigue and burnout
- Having trouble sleeping or oversleeping
- Having difficulty concentrating and contributing to most tasks
- Having negative expectations of one's self
- Isolating yourself and avoiding friends or social activities
This list may not be extensive but it's some of the strongest indicators of burnout and mental distress that frontliners should be mindful of. Find out more about burnout in healthcare workers here.
List of support resources for healthcare workers
It's easy for healthcare professionals to forget to take a pause and engage in self-care practices due to the nature of their jobs. After you've spent all that time and effort taking care of others, it's now time to take care of yourself. If you need a timely reminder, here's the sign you're looking for.
Here are some simple and easy ways to incorporate healthy wellness habits into your already busy life:
- Incorporate healthy eating habits into your diet
- Ensure that you're getting the necessary nutrients from each meal by tracking your intake
- Plan your meals in advance according to your shifts and avoid skipping meals
- Ease muscle tension from long working hours with simple daily stretches
- Practice consistency with your sleep hygiene by getting up at the same time each morning and going to bed at the same time each night
- Download mobile apps that help with sleep tracking and relaxation if you suffer from poor sleeping habits
Taking care of yourself from the inside not only benefits your physical well-being but also manifests itself on the outside and directly impacts your mental health. Always keep these practices in mind and work on making them a habit in your daily routine.
Here are some places where you can find some comprehensive mental wellness resources to get you started:
Making the necessary lifestyle changes and taking the first step to take care of yourself can always help alleviate any mental health issues you may have. However, this isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. With that, seeking help from a mental health professional for your concerns is a practical option.
Figuring out what works for you is completely different from having a trained professional help you throughout the process. With their expertise and support, they will help you create a personalised framework according to your symptoms, and equip you with the necessary skills to help you navigate any distress or burnout.
Below are local helplines and counselling services available for healthcare workers in Singapore:
Mental health helplines
- Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222
- National CARE Hotline: 6202-6868
- Singapore Association for Mental Health Helpline: 1800-283-7019
- Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800-221-4444
- AIC Hotline: 1800-650-6060
- Caregivers Alliance Limited: 6460-4400
- Beyond the Label Mental Health Helpbot
Therapy and counselling services
- TOUCH Community Services – Counseling
- Safe Space Singapore
- Clarity Singapore Limited
- Singapore Association for Mental Health
- Silver Ribbon Singapore
Combined with personal wellness resources, getting professional help can make all the difference in your mental health.
Peer support resources
Sometimes, having someone who understands exactly what you're going through in the workplace can be the most valuable resource when the going gets tough. This is where peer support comes in.
Healthcare workers can receive the help they need from skilled, peer support workers who have lived through the same shared experiences and mental health challenges. This form of social and emotional support is an incredibly effective tool in giving individuals a safe space to express their qualms regarding work and areas where they are struggling.
Front liners would be supported in various ways including group work, engaging activities, and one-to-one sessions, all of which are meant to give them a renewed sense of hope and confidence as they navigate life in the workplace.
In Singapore, such resources are now becoming increasingly common and available in most public and private healthcare institutions. Simply reach out to your respective managers or employers to inquire about a peer support programme at your place of work.
Support resources for caregivers
Just like healthcare workers, caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue is real. This is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that's unfortunately common for caregivers and often leads to burnout, anxiety, and even depression. This begins when a person unknowingly starts to neglect their own well-being at the expense of caring for someone else.
Getting connected with caregiver support groups gives you the space to be open about your struggles and receive the help you need. These are resources aimed at empowering caregivers through several programs, peer networks, and even counselling services as well.
Community support groups
- Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL)
- Caregiver Asia
- Caregiver Welfare Association
- TOUCH Caregivers Support
- Club Heal
Online support groups
Tips to cope with burnout and build resilience
One day never looks the same when you work in healthcare. Workplace stress and burnout can look like dealing with a long line of patients at the emergency ward, working back-to-back twelve-hour shifts, breaking bad news to patients of a diagnosis, and the list goes on.
With such a physically and emotionally demanding job, front liners need to learn how to deal with burnout and enhance resilience all at the same time. But before finding the right solution, you first need to know if you're dealing with the early signs like:
- Loss of motivation or inspiration
- Feeling physically and emotionally exhausted most of the time
- Feeling helpless and cynical
- Increased feelings of self-doubt
- Constantly feeling disengaged and having a negative outlook on work
- Frequent isolation from family, friends, and colleagues
- Withdrawing from your personal responsibilities
- Using unhealthy vices like food and alcohol to cope
If you find that your usual methods aren't as effective in helping you cope, maybe it's worth considering other methods. Most of these start internally by shifting your mindset and seeing things from a different perspective.
Try starting with these essential steps:
- Identify your emotional responses and triggers. This is the first step in helping you find the right solutions to cope.
- Practice mindfulness and positive self-talk when faced with stressful situations and environments.
- Avoid being overly critical of yourself. Working in healthcare is already challenging on its own; change negativity to neutrality.
- Remind yourself that making mistakes is completely normal. Use them as learning experiences instead of seeing them as failures.
- Take timely breaks during the workday to relieve stress momentarily.
- Consider talking to your manager and employer, and see if there are ways you can feel more supported in the workplace.
- Get the help you need for your mental well-being
We see all the efforts and sacrifices that healthcare workers in Singapore and around the world have made, especially with the ongoing pandemic. But as a frontliner, it pays to show up for yourself too. To take care of others, start by taking care of yourself first.
Whether that's seeking professional help or making simple lifestyle changes to improve your daily life, all you need to do is take the first step and be committed to improving your mental health.
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
- Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
- Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928
This article was first published in Homage.