By Dr Rod MacRorie, NHS Birmingham CrossCity CCG's Mental Health Clinical lead and a GP at Cape Hill Medical Centre.
Mrs A keeps ringing for home visits as her immediate family have died off or moved away, and she has lost any meaningful relationships that kept her going. Mr B would love to spend more time with his depressed wife but has a busy job to cling onto in order to make ends meet. Ms C continues tapping on her console when you’re trying to get her to engage in your consultation. Frustrating, isn’t it?
As GPs we perhaps don’t need to be told that good relationships help us live longer and happier lives with fewer mental health problems. This year’s Mental Health Awareness week (16-22 May) takes on the theme of relationships. These are the supportive connections we share with friends, family and our community. Hard evidence suggests investing in these relationships is as critical to our health and wellbeing as other lifestyle factors such as eating well, exercising more and stopping smoking.
But I wonder whether we would be more comfortable working on our patients’ mental health issues if we spent a minute recognising our own mental wellbeing, our own relationships matter too?
We know our scarcest and least tractable resource is our time. We can be so busy with home or work, surgeries or meetings, that we don’t spend time with the important people in our lives. Put time aside to nurture important relationships. Give your time to what ultimately matters most.
We live and work in an age of distraction. It can be tempting to check your phone, Facebook messages or even work emails when with family and friends.
Can we instead try to be present in the moment and there for your loved ones? Be present to what is actually happening.
We are master listeners in the day job, but do you get enough opportunities to be listened to? Be proactive, seek out a person and place where you can share how you are feeling, honestly, and allow yourself to be listened to and supported. That may give us fresh energy to actively listen to what others are saying in a non-judgemental way, concentrating on their needs in that moment, making work easier again.
And take the temperature at your workplace, how things are with your staff and colleagues. Are certain relationships making you unhappy? Recognising unhealthy relationships may be the first step towards moving forward and finding solutions to issues.
GPs are not famous at looking after themselves properly. Perhaps a dose of self awareness this week may put us in a better place to promote mental health and prevent mental distress in our patients.