Here’s why every nurse should know about our mental health support services

Pandemic causing surge in demand for the work of healthcare professionals’ well-being charity

The pandemic is causing a surge in demand for the work of healthcare professionals’ well-being charity the Laura Hyde Foundation

The Laura Hyde Foundation helpline is run by an independent provider, with no connection
to healthcare employers Picture: iStock

When we launched the Laura Hyde Foundation three years ago, we knew our services would be in high demand.

As a charity we offer mental health support to nurses as well as campaigning for greater recognition of mental ill health among healthcare staff and other emergency workers.

We could never have anticipated the challenges and demand for our support that that lay ahead.

The emotional toll on nurses of the COVID-19 pandemic

Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic – with a likely winter crisis looming – it is clear the virus has taken its toll on all nursing staff in different ways.

Recently, we helped a children’s cancer nurse experiencing suicidal thoughts as he battled with the guilt of not being able to provide the care his patients needed, because COVID-19 was diverting resources elsewhere.

Similarly, we supported a rural social care worker who was having panic attacks and anxiety after witnessing 12 of her clients die in a four-week period.

Past year’s surge in demand for our bespoke mental health support services

The mental health of all NHS staff is under increasing strain and this is why our bespoke support is so needed.

Let me share some of our figures with you.

In May, there was a 114% rise in support requests from nurses and other emergency workers made to our charity since the previous year [988 in the year to May 2019 and 2,115 by May 2020].

More alarmingly, there was a 157% surge in ‘acute’ requests – when a person requires immediate mental health support due to fear for their own well-being, their own life, or someone else’s.

Nursing staff in all settings are feeling the psychological effects of the pandemic

Media coverage in the past six months has often focused on the impact the pandemic has had on those NHS staff working on COVID wards.

But, of course, healthcare staff across all settings have been working around the clock –beyond normal shift patterns - to treat people who are critically ill.

These nurses and other healthcare staff have been doing this often at a high cost to their own physical and mental health.

‘We are able to support people who may otherwise feel they cannot request help from their employer for fear of stigma or career damage’

We are hearing from nurses across clinical settings, as well as from midwives, care home staff and doctors.

Our service is independent and confidential

Our new independent helpline support service aims to help.

Since May, the service has been providing 20,000 hours of free support every month and is staffed by more than 1,000 fully qualified and insured mental health practitioner volunteers.

The Laura Hyde Foundation works to combat the risks to their mental health that nurses
and healthcare colleagues face in the course of their work

The service is run in partnership with well-being organisation Project5, and its independence means users don’t need to fear stigma or that anything they discuss will be used against them in their workplace.

Every day, we are able to support people who may otherwise feel that they cannot request the help they require from their employer for fear of stigma or career damage.

The unique challenges nursing staff face expose them to risk of burnout

The nature of the work carried out by the nursing profession is psychologically demanding, and staff face unique challenges at work which expose them to the risk of burnout.

Pressures of the job that make the nurse’s job harder include: staff shortages, lack of resources, high levels of stress, the feeling of being undervalued and under-supported.

Contact the Laura Hyde Foundation

Employers can do more to prevent mental ill health in their workforce

The frustrating thing is that staff mental ill health is often preventable and employers could do more in this area.

For example, nurses’ employers should not wait until someone becomes unwell and goes on sick leave to intervene.

‘Nurses and their colleagues deserve the same support as patients’

The signs of stress are usually there long before this point has been reached, so strategies need to be put in place early to prevent the illness, or at least stop it becoming protracted.

Managers should collaborate with staff at all levels to find ways to promote well-being
across teams Picture: Tim George

Work must start at the top of organisations and involve staff at every level.

If employee health and well-being were discussed regularly at board level it would ensure a proactive approach to mental well-being at work.

Managers should include employees in a collaborative way to find ways to promote staff well-being.

Good leadership from senior staff as well as having integrated work teams and good supervisory support is essential.

Health and well-being policies need to be in place and staff must have easy access to mental health support if staff health is to be taken seriously.

The NHS cannot function without its staff.

Nurses and their colleagues deserve the same support as patients.

It is vital employers do more for all of them now, and in the years ahead.

Liam Barnes is founder of the Laura Hyde Foundation