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It is important that, as a team, we are able to identify when someone might be struggling and to offer support when appropriate. If staff are able to detect that someone might be in distress early on, this may prevent worsened mental health outcomes.

Understanding and being alert to changes in staff wellbeing

  • Effectively supporting someone who is struggling with their mental health and wellbeing involves finding out how they’re really doing and how you can support them as a manager.
  • This involves asking the right questions to understand what problems staff might be facing:

I haven't seen you at the drop ins recently... is everything ok?

Other staff in the team have spoken to me about feeling overloaded with extra cases. I thought I'd ask you how you felt about the extra work?

You've told me that you're feeling quite anxious due to an incident with a patient last week. Would you like to talk a bit more about this over a cup of tea?

Other questions to ask yourself may be...
  • Is this person acting 'out of character'?
  • Has this person just been through a significant adverse life event, for example, loss of a loved one?
  • Does this person's daily role involve high exposure to potentially traumatic events?
  • Is this person a new starter, or has their role changed recently? How might this impact their wellbeing?

Thoughts

Are they more tearful? Angry? Despairing? How significant is the change in their emotions?

Emotionality

Are they more tearful? Angry? Despairing? How significant is the change in their emotions?

Physical symptoms

Have they been complaining of feeling sick, dizzy or having a headache? Is this compounded with their behaviour and emotions?

Behaviour

Has their performance at work dropped? Do they appear to be more irritable or withdrawn?

Active listening

Active listening is more than just paying attention. It gives you the opportunity to fully process what is being said to you, whilst showing that you are attentive and engaged in the conversation. Being an active listener as a leader will allow you to form strong working relationships, as staff feel encouraged to share their relevant thoughts and feelings without fearing an apathetic response.

Practical steps towards being an active listener

Often when you disclose that you have noticed a change in someone's behaviour, emotions and physical symptoms, they may not want to open up. You may need to find ways to overcome resistance gently and sensitively.

This might involve disclosing some personal information, e.g. when I first joined the team, I found it incredibly tough, although talking to someone helped. Once a staff member opens up, try not to interrupt them or problem solve whilst they are explaining their feelings.

Maintain good eye contact and continue to reflect and acknowledge emotions. "That sounds really difficult I can see where you're coming from". Paraphrase regularly to ensure they know you are listening.

It is important to note…

  • Not all staff who are exposed to significant stressors are at risk of acting ‘out of character’ or developing mental health problems. However, it is always worth talking about these issues in order to understand and support their individual needs.
  • If in doubt, reach out to someone who can help. This might be your line manager or a mental health expert within your Trust. However, confidentiality should be respected when getting a second opinion.
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