Blog: Mental Health and Wellbeing

Published on 01 October 2020

Andrea Sutcliffe speaks about the importance mental health and wellbeing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Do you remember what you were doing 50 years ago today, 1st October 1970? Granted a lot of you reading this won’t have even been born, were too young to remember or it just wasn’t that memorable.

A new baby brother

portrait of Adrian, Andrea's brother

But for me it was a very special day. I was six and woke early to a lot of commotion.  Joined on my bed by my brother and sister we wondered what was happening.  As the eldest it was my job to find out.  I entered my parents’ bedroom a split second after my youngest brother Adrian was born.  My abiding memory is of the midwife holding a bloody baby aloft and shouting “get that child out of here!”

As early childhood memories go, it’s a pretty good one. And Adrian gave us lots more good memories over the years - his first steps, his cheeky smile, his sense of humour and so much more. 

But as more years went by that joy in life was undermined by his deteriorating mental health. Eventually at the age of 35, after many previous attempts, he died by suicide – a devastating blow for my parents and the three of us who were enthralled by our little brother all those years ago.

Mental ill health

Adrian’s story is sadly not unique – too many die by suicide, perhaps not realising how much they are loved and missed or maybe not getting or asking for the support they needed.

Over the years as I’ve spoken about being bereaved by suicide I’ve come to understand how many people are affected by that same devastating loss and also how many people struggle with their mental health, worried about what may happen and needing support.

Impact of Covid

Raising awareness of these important issues is even more crucial as we face a difficult winter with Coronavirus surging anew and restrictions increasing. There’s a lot of focus on what we need to do to manage the physical impact of Covid19 but the implications on mental health and wellbeing need attention too.

Restricted contact with loved ones, loneliness of self-isolation, the intensity of home working, living with long Covid, worries about unemployment – there are so many reasons why the mental health and care system needs to be gearing itself up to meet growing demand in the months ahead. 

The nursing and midwifery professionals on our register will play such an important role in responding to these needs providing skilled care and working with colleagues to make sure people get the support they need.  Our family knows Adrian stayed with us for much longer than he might have done because of the efforts of the health and social care team.  Many more families will be just as grateful.

Caring for those who care for us

But we also need to be mindful of the pressure nurses, midwives and nursing associates themselves are facing as we ask them to respond to the challenges of the months ahead.  Two key reports emphasised this last week.

The Public Accounts Committee report on the nursing workforce stated 

“it is vital that the NHS protects the mental health and well-being of nurses who have contributed so much during the COVID-19 outbreak” and recommended that “NHSE&I should take stock of the measures in place to support nursing staff’s mental health and wellbeing, to share good practice and identify what else staff may need.”

The King’s Fund report The Courage of Compassion highlighted that

“The impact of the pandemic on the nursing and midwifery workforce has been unprecedented and will be felt for a long time to come.” The authors make a series of recommendations focusing on “how the work environments of nurses and midwives can be changed to better support their wellbeing and enable them to thrive and flourish at work.”

The messages in The King’s Fund report would be important at any time, but particularly now. 

We know demands and expectations for nurses and midwives are greater than ever before and have been intensified by the whirlwind of the Covid-19 pandemic. These reports echo our own most recent survey of those leaving our register which showed work-related stress and its effect on their mental health are some of the top reasons given by nurses and midwives for leaving.

At the NMC we have an important role in helping to foster the culture and environment that enables professionals on our register to deliver the highly skilled, kind and safe care we know we all need. Our strategy for 2020 - 2025 sets out our own ambitions for the work we need to do and although the last six months have knocked us off course a bit, we remain committed to working in collaboration with others to achieve those aims.

Happy birthday

And while I’m doing that, Adrian sits on my shoulder silently urging me on.  Happy Birthday golden boy!

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