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Practicing Self-compassion: Mental Health Week 2024

May 6 to 12 is CMHA National’s / ACSM National Mental Health Week, and this year’s theme is ‘A Call to be Kind’, focused on compassion and kindness — something allied health professionals practice every day. And that means work can take a toll.

Have you heard of secondary trauma? What about vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue? These are mental health-related issues which can affect frontline workers in caregiving roles, such as paramedics and other first responders, nurses, social workers, and others whose professions involve expressions of empathy, concern for others’ well-being, and bearing witness to others’ traumatic events. The chronic stress of taking in others’ trauma can lead to symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Common symptoms of secondary trauma include:

  • nightmares about a patient’s story
  • intrusive thoughts
  • sleep problems
  • avoiding clients or discouraging them to share trauma
  • hypervigilance or hyperarousal
  • anger
  • anxiety
  • apathy or depression
  • physical exhaustion
  • increased drinking, substance use, or eating to cope with stress
  • increase in judgment or resentment toward clients or job

People with secondary trauma and in caregiving professions likely won’t be able to care for patients with the same degree of empathy, effectiveness or sound decision making.

It’s very important for health-care professionals to invest in their own well-being and to check in with each other for support and understanding. Here are some tips:

1) Get proper sleep, drink plenty of water and eat nutritious food (whenever possible, of course!): These three commitments can certainly be difficult for busy shift workers to uphold, but practicing healthy behaviours, whenever possible, can help prevent physical and mental fatigue. Good food gives you the nutrients and energy you need to be strong when exerting yourself, and water intake helps flush out the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ from your body. DYK that sleep deficiency is a MAJOR contributor to symptoms of poor health, from stomach issues to an inability to focus/concentrate and from an increased likelihood of obesity to a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and emotional disorders like anxiety and depression? REMEMBER: You cannot pour from an empty cup.

2) Find healthy outlets to help manage stress (such as yoga, walking, mindfulness, art, conversations with friends, time in nature, or whatever other healthy diversion serves you as a coping mechanism).

3) Build your mental resilience by learning about concerning signs and symptoms so you can watch out for them in yourself and others. Be selective about the volume and type of information you take in from various media sources. Develop strong bonds and social connections to prevent loneliness and feelings of isolation.

4) Check in on your mental health and stress levels with helpful tools and assessments: https://cmha.ca/find-info/mental-health/check-in-on-your-mental-health/

5) Never be afraid or reluctant to reach out for professional help and referrals. You may not have the tools you need to heal on your own, especially if you’re mentally and physically depleted. Access your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and connect with professional counselling services, or encourage a friend who appears to be struggling to connect with qualified support.

This week, and every week, be sure to practice self-compassion and be kind to yourself.

For more info about mental health, illness and recovery: https://cmha.ca/find-info/mental-illness/prevention/ OR view MAHCP’s list of resources.


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