We know one in four people will commit, attempt or contemplate suicide: we also know one in 50 healthcare professionals will actually attempt suicide each year. Our panel explored this somber fact on a remarkable evening sponsored by Slater and Gordon. All our panellists, separately, founded impactful initiatives aimed at changing this conversation amongst our health leaders:
- Andy Tagg, “Don’t Forget the Bubbles”
- Geoff Toogood, “Crazy Socks 4 Docs”
- Mary Freer, Freerthinking
This incredible discussion was facilitated by Matiu Bush, Senior Strategist, Business Innovation, at Bolton Clarke.
Throughout the conversation, we hit upon common themes that are both the essence of the problem and, in some way, the source of the solution.
Avoidance of the issue
We simply aren’t managing the problem: we’re just hoping like hell it’ll go away! As a system, we are poor at providing support to the caregivers. This is especially true from the highly specialised health professionals to the individual personal care attendants conducting home visits.
Our formal governing bodies, such as The Royal Colleges, medical defense organisations and associated professional entities, collectively have a role in bringing this issue to the forefront for today’s leadership. They must make it the number one topic. Critically, it must be a conversation that takes place at the national level.
At an individual level, a “work wife / husband” model may help. A work-spouse is a platonic colleague who offers loyalty, support and trust. Typically, it’s someone to whom you can expose your weaknesses and they can hold up a mirror so you can see the “real you”: both what you do well and upon which you can improve.
Culture and leadership
Candidly, the culture within our hospitals is pretty toxic. We’ve almost become “factories of despair”! People enter the health profession brimming with compassion but the system simply beats it out of them. When people start the beginning of their shift, we often set their expectations in such a negative frame: for example “what did you do last night to patient Ms. xxx?!” or “you’re in for a terrible shift today”. This is not a healthy supporting ecosystem. None of these types of comments support a culture that allows a person to manage such a taxing work environment that is full of death, distress, pain, joy and recovery.
We must provide a positive health culture and opportunities to support people. We need to move away from the ingrained feeling clinicians don’t care for each other. We need to re-establish the “currency of compassion”. People need a safe place and the time where they can come together. For example, the return of an informal “warm” space (where hearts and minds can meet) so people can support each other and “debrief” before or after work could go a long way to help. The loss of the old simple tearoom has much to answer for!
What we measure and define as “good performance” simply reinforces the current system and associated poor culture in that they all reward statements like “I work 26 hours a day!”.
Let’s reset the system to succeed and support people to both work but also have time to pursue other activities (family, sport, hobbies). We need compassionate leaders and leadership. We need to teach leaders to be more empathetic and commission organisations to deliver an environment that is measurably better for people’s wellness. Drive the change at the top and let it trickle down with active support. Let’s set the “sustainable” expectation for the next generation that working in the health industry is a joy.
In terms of what we can do now in the everyday of our hectic environments, some simple solutions were proffered:
- Simply say “thank you”;
- Get to know people on your team as individuals. Ask people genuinely how they are and, importantly, wait for them to answer; and
- Recognise it’s okay to feel vulnerable.
This was a great event (thank you again to our wonderful sponsor Slater and Gordon) that went to the very heart of a vexing issue for individuals and the system itself.
- Things are changing, slowly;
- Any one person can make the difference; and
- Patients can be a partner in this – “help us, help you”.