“It was the best of times and the worst of times”, those opening words from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ could also be applied to the social care sector. The care sector has been through some of the worst of times because of the pandemic but has shown some of the very best values and commitment at the heart of care.
Social care is a very complex and challenging profession to work in. The emotional and physical strain of working in the care sector must never be underestimated. Complexity, challenge, and stress are a daily reality for the 1.6 million people who dedicate themselves to the support of others. Inevitably in such a complex and challenging role, we need to ensure that, as employers and colleagues, we think about how we support everyone who is delivering care and make sure that we focus on their mental health and wellbeing. Good mental health has to have the same priority as other aspects of caring roles, such as training, development, and performance management. One of the things that often happens is that because they are so committed to the people they support, care staff do not pay enough attention to their own needs, and there is also sometimes a feeling that acknowledging you are not coping is a sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Understanding your own needs and protecting yourself is an essential part of delivering high-quality care to others.
As we move into a new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, this allows us to reflect on how our sector rose magnificently to the challenge of a global pandemic, but also the toll this has taken on people who have been through the most traumatic and challenging two years in living memory. I liken what care professionals have been through to what you go through in a war, and I believe that many care staff are in post-traumatic stress, having lost so many of the people they had supported. The essence of good social care is about having good relationships. In social care, we build our connection with the people we support over months and years, and this means that there is not only a professional relationship, but there is often a strong emotional bond. The Covid pandemic saw many people dying, and colleagues were going through a cycle of continuous trauma and bereavement.
It is incumbent on all of us to acknowledge the emotional and psychological impact of care work and do a range of tangible things that will help and support our colleagues in maintaining good mental health. Firstly, there is a need for the time to reflect and get the necessary support to come to terms with what social care staff have been through. Some of this support will come from colleagues and friends, and some may come from other professionals who will help people manage stress and trauma.
The care sector needs to get much better by identifying the mental health needs of staff and putting in place the necessary support. Some of this support will come from other Professionals, but some help will come in less formal and structured ways from colleagues and friends. I hope that one of the legacies of this pandemic will be a better understanding of our colleagues’ mental health and support needs who work in care. As employers, we must think about how we develop our service to enable staff to have time to reflect on, discuss their concerns and seek appropriate help. Let us put wellbeing at the heart of the care sector and make sure that everybody who needs support receives it and let us go on a mission to end stress and burnout.