BlogSupporting the Supporters – Boundaries, Wellbeing, and the NHS

Supporting the Supporters – Boundaries, Wellbeing, and the NHS

At Southampton Sight, a local sight loss charity supporting the V.I. community, we are more than aware of the impact a sight loss diagnosis can have on both patient and family alike. Touching all aspects of life – security, income, and independence – the mental health impact can be more affecting, more devastating, and more limiting than any physical restrictions. Fear, anxiety, and grief are, understandable, common responses to vision loss, and at this most trying of times, we all tend to lean on health care and its workers.

But what of the workers themselves?

I’ve often thought of the day I was first registered blind, the shock and surprise compounded by a seeming lack of empathy, a dismissive attitude, and what I perceived as the cruel callousness of that day. No support was offered, no sign-posting, simply a matter-of-fact conversation stressing the lack of treatment, the futility of hope, and a swift exit. To say I was shocked and stunned is an understatement – I spiralled for many years after before finally regaining my feet, and a way forward.

Less angry than confused, I thought of the doctor’s attitude often, initially attributing it to heartlessness. Now, some 25+ years later, having met and trained many in the NHS, my opinions have shifted.

You see, it’s easy to forget the nurse, doctor, consultant are only as human as we are. They feel what we feel, empathise and internalise, but on an industrial scale. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to continually break often life-changing news day in, day out. There simply is no getting around the fact that some patients will not recover, certain eye conditions have no treatment, and no matter the efforts, there is simply nothing that can be done, medically speaking. This, however, does not stop those on the front line feeling responsible, feeling guilty, and simply just feeling.

With this in mind, building upon the relationship we at Southampton Sight have established with Southampton General, and in partnership with Options Wellbeing, a course of boundary and wellbeing techniques has been incorporated into our Sight Loss Nurse Advisors training.

Focusing on self-care, healthy boundary setting, and peer support, the course offers advice and methods of maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing, both at work and home. Knowing individual limits, tempering patient expectations, and self-awareness in the face of difficult decision making and conversations helps bolster morale and perspective. The sessions give time for the nursing staff to share their experiences and learn from one another, a necessity in preventing burnout.

Whether time, emotion, or energy, taking on board the role of carer will, over time, grind down the most resilient. Knowing where to draw the line between home and work, between sharing and unloading, and between saviour and crutch prevents the slow descent into apathy, cynicism, and lack of empathy. Although seemingly self-evident, finding outlets in sport and hobbies, giving ourselves time to decompress, and knowing it’s OK to have a duvet-day if it all seems too much are simple but effective ways to maintain a positive mental outlook.

Whether deleting work email accounts from personal phones, rediscovering the joys of baking, or delving into the realm of transcendental meditation, the nursing staff have embraced the core principles of the program, our feedback being overwhelmingly positive. With an aging population and an NHS under intense pressure across the board, any and all tools we can offer will only help support the supporters through our – that is the patients – most difficult of times.

In retrospect, perhaps my own experience had little to do with coldness, and everything to do with a doctor’s own lack of support, lack of boundaries, and poor mental health. With the fantastic team at Options Wellbeing we are hopefully turning the tide of wellbeing in the workplace, a positive for us all.

– Kris Gibson, Sight Loss Advisor, Southampton Sight