Everybody Hurts: What can physical health professionals learn about how mental health professionals support their own emotional resilience?

Melanie Burton, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

The physical aspects of ultrasonography – difficult posture with prolonged pressure exertion – have been extensively researched and addressed with advances in machine ergonomics, operator awareness of posture and positioning and workplace tools to identify musculoskeletal problems. The mental stresses are less well recognised and have only recently started getting investigated. Ultrasonography is a mentally challenging activity requiring long periods of intense concentration, empathy and communication of complex and often difficult information to patients and clinicians, all of which carries an emotional toll. Practitioners are also under increasing time and caseload pressures exacerbated by COVID recovery and chronic fatigue from two years of pandemic. A survey of UK obstetric sonographers showed 92.1% and 91.0% met the burnout thresholds for exhaustion and disengagement, respectively (Skelton et al., 2022). While many Trusts provide training to support physical health, few radiology departments educate their staff on emotional resilience or offer regular support to either promote or maintain mental wellbeing. Training, when available, is often focused on the receiver and not on the impact of vicarious traumas experienced as a result of repeatedly discovering/delivering difficult outcomes to patients on a regular and prolonged basis. Few health professionals are face to face with their patient at point of significant discovery whether that information is imparted to the patient or not. Mental health professionals have adopted a trauma-informed stance into their working practices. This has not only informed the direct clinical work with patients but is also evident in the way the workforce is supported by the trust. Regular supervision, reflective practice and debriefs are required and monitored by the trust, based on research in Clinical Psychology to inform best practice. Some of these practices could be applied to physical health professionals to address some of the emotional burdens experienced as part of day-to-day delivery of care.

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