I’m a children’s mental health nurse – but not sure I can cope much longer

Asian woman sitting on sofa looking distressed
Asian woman sitting on sofa looking distressed
8:33am, Tue 23 Feb 2021
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The problem…

“I am a children’s mental health nurse and have been working such long days, seven days a week, since before Christmas. Today, I’ve taken a day off and while I’m happy sitting here in my PJs, I’m filled with stress as I wonder how the kids and their families are coping.

“I know that sooner or later, I’m going to start panicking as to whether this day off was worth it. Will I catch up with my paperwork; will I be able to cover all the home visits; are my staff able to cope with the stress; will I cope with the stress? I just hope we can give enough to keep these kids alive, in their own homes, and that we can reduce some of the levels of self-harm. But I am so tired.

“All through this past year, we have been flat-out. It was tough enough before, but now I feel crushed and useless. People often hate the Child and Adult Mental Health Services because they have to wait so long for an appointment. When they get one, they don’t agree with diagnosis and they feel let down. They don’t understand we have lost so many staff, and on top of that, our referrals increase 10% every year, leaving us to only deal with the very, very urgent and very ill children.

“My house is filthy, I have spent way too much on rubbish to cheer myself up and I’ve no energy. My eating and sleeping patterns are all wrong, so I have put on weight and started falling into ‘diet thinking’, which I know for me is very harmful.

“I know I need to change things in order to support my own mental health, and I have started going for a 15-minute walk a couple of times in the week to break up the day. Today, as I said, I’ve taken a day off, but I’m not sure how much longer I can cope.”

Fiona says…

“I am very sorry that you are having to work so hard and yet feel so unappreciated. I know there is little I can say to help because I can’t wave a magic wand, open a bottomless purse, or supply you with more colleagues. Your email is a reminder to us all to be kind – we hear the phrase so often, but we really don’t know what others are going through. Your experiences sound so very hard.

“Your employer must be aware that you are working too hard – you are risking burning yourself out, but because you so obviously care, you keep going. That isn’t fair, or healthy or sustainable, and they have a duty of care to look after you better than they are doing. No wonder you have lost colleagues – I know I couldn’t cope with this level of pressure, and I’m sure many of them have felt the same way.

“You are clearly being kind to others – but you really do need to be kind to yourself too. Of course there is immense pressure to look after others in vulnerable circumstances – but the old saying that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ is so true. We simply cannot look after others effectively, if we don’t look after ourselves first.

Woman outside walking in nature

“Your walks are a good start but try to make them daily – even if it’s just 10 minutes in the fresh air, it will help. You don’t say if you’ve reached out for help, but if you haven’t, please do. Is there a counselling service via your work you can access? Remember you can speak with your GP too, or reach out to a helpline. Just speaking out can be such a load off.

“I’m sure there are friends and family who would be willing to do more too, if they only knew how tough things are feeling. Are you staying connected with friends? This shouldn’t feel like yet another chore or pressure on your shoulders – that’s the last thing you need – but perhaps a fun, distracting chat or Zoom quiz could really help.

“As a mental health professional, you probably don’t need me to advise you on coping strategies when it all becomes too much – but do remind yourself that they apply to you too. Taking a break, listening to music, meditating, spending time in nature, focusing on your breathing – they apply to you just as much as they do to the people you are supporting.

“However much more work there is for you when you get back to it, please take at least one proper day off a week. No one can sustain that level for too long without it seriously impacting their wellbeing. Please, take a break, otherwise you won’t be there to help those who need you.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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