My COVID-19 Experience: Alison Owen

I am a nurse at UHP and I have anxiety.

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I am a nurse at UHP and I have anxiety. After taking part in a conversation on wellbeing, I was asked to share my experience on accessing mental health services. This subject may be a bit raw for some of you right now, due to your own struggles, or through grief, so I hope this article is of some help, and I apologise if it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Did you know that nurses are four times more likely to end their own lives? (Office for National Statistics, 2019). Or that between 2011 and 2015, 430 doctors died by suicide? (Kinman and Teoh, 2018). I don’t know the statistics for our other professional and non-clinical colleagues, but I do know 40% of sickness in the NHS is due to stress and mental health, (West, 2019), and I’m sure that number will represent all NHS staff, no matter the job title.

Poor mental health can affect anyone, and it is important we talk about it, and end the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

It scares me to write my story on what is such a public forum, but I am a great believer in talking about mental health. If one person reads this, identifies they or a friend needs help, and then accesses that help, then sharing my experience is worth it.

About two years ago, I began to experience anxiety at work. I’ve always had a bit of social anxiety which I could manage, but this episode was something else and I began to dread coming into work. Looking back I couldn’t tell you the trigger, but I know my workplace was often busy and overwhelming. I worried I was going to make a mistake, I worried I would miss something, and that because of me, someone might die. Every health care professionals worst nightmare. At the beginning of a night shift my friend saw something was wrong, I cried to her for an hour in the toilets. After that shift I had 3 months off work.

So, how did I get better? Luckily I had an incredible support network in my husband and friends. I spoke to my ward manager who was brilliant, and my GP who was beyond understanding. I attended group sessions for anxiety put on by Livewell Southwest. I wrote in a journal everyday. I was resolved to get better, and with a lot of help from other people, I got there. I can assure you it was not easy, but it was better than the alternative.

A year after all this had happened, stories in the news began of a virus in China. It didn’t seem like that much of a big deal at the time but here we are, 6 months later, our worlds have been turned upside down by Covid-19.

I’ve been working in an amber/ red area during this time. It’s an unfamiliar environment, we’re always in PPE, many staff have been redeployed so the team is of mixed abilities and experience. We face a lot of emotions from other people, and we all have our own emotions around the situation and our personal circumstances.

I could feel my anxiety returning again, little tell tale signs, I was getting irrationally angry and I had a constant chest pain that appeared in February and wasn’t going away. Recognising what was happening to me, and not wanting to get back to the point of panic attacks in the staff toilet, I decided to seek help early and accessed a counsellor through The Laura Hyde Foundation.

The charity has recently collaborated with Project 5, a group of professionally accredited counsellors, and I was able to access three free counselling sessions plus a load of other self help materials.

It was really easy to access help, I went to the Laura Hyde Foundation website and on their getting help pages they had a link that said ‘get support.’ I was able to register with Project5 using my NHS email address and then get an appointment the next day.

Speaking to someone really helped me process my emotions on what was going on, which was especially important when due to lockdown, my normal coping mechanisms had been taken away. I was able to understand more about my reactions and find ways to cope with them when I was feeling overwhelmed.

I want you to know that if you are feeling overwhelmed or perhaps just not quite yourself, then help is available for you too. It can feel like the hardest thing in the world, to admit that you’re not coping, but that’s OK, it’s OK to not be OK.

 

Getting Help

To access a counsellor through The Laura Hyde Foundation please visit:
https://laurahydefoundation.org

You can also access help through the UHP Staff Support Hub:
http://www.plymouthhospitals.nhs.uk/covid19-support

There is an NHS support line: 0300 131 7000 between 07:00 and 23:00 each day with a 24/7 text service available by using the number 85258

Livewell South West has a 24/7 helpline at the moment: 01752 434922. Their other services can be found on their website here

For Cornwall based staff please visit:
https://www.cornwallft.nhs.uk/i-need-help-now/

Or the rest of Devon:
https://www.dpt.nhs.uk/i-need-help-now.

 

References

Kinman, G and Teoh, K. (2018). What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors? A review of the research evidence. https://www.som.org.uk/sites/som.org.uk/files/LTF_SOM_mental_health_of_doctors.pdf (Accessed 18/6/20).

Office for National Statistics, (2018). Suicide deaths among nurses aged 20 to 64 years, deaths registered in England and Wales between 2011 and 2017. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/adhocs/009209suicidedeathsamongnursesaged20to64yearsdeathsregisteredinenglandandwalesbetween2011and2017 Accessed 14/4/2020.

West, M. (2019). The Kings Fund. The NHS crisis of caring for staff: what do we need to do? https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2019/03/nhs-crisis-caring (Accessed 18/6/20).

 

 

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