Mental Health Matters: Reducing Burnout in the Mental Health Field

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Reducing Burnout in the Mental Health Field

Andrea Beaulieu, MSW, RCSWI
Social Services Supervisor

What is burnout?

Many people in the mental health field talk about having “burnout”, or other people being “burned out”, but there is rarely a lot of time spent defining the causes and cures. Burnout can actually be a normal response to emotional and physical overload. Anyone is susceptible, but the demands of the mental health field in particular put one at a greater risk. Burnout most often develops in eager young professionals who desire to help others as much as they can and as frequently as possible. However, this is sometimes done without remembering to care for oneself too. Professionally, burnout can result in low morale, impaired performance, poor decision-making skills, absenteeism, high workplace turnover, a decline in attention and concentration, and difficulties engaging in relationships with clients and colleagues. Physically, burnout can include constant fatigue, trouble sleeping, frustration, lingering colds, headaches, ulcers and high blood pressure. Socially, burnout can lead to interpersonal conflicts with family, friends, and colleagues.
Burnout can be identified through several of the following common symptoms:

• Experiencing emotional exhaustion
• Feeling as though you bring work home with you or having trouble eliminating work from your mind when you are outside of work
• Feeling uninterested in the emotional needs of clients
• Having a critical evaluation of one’s self and performance
• Noticing a decrease in ethical behavior
• Being less empathetic, collaborative, or attentive
• Having feelings of isolation, anxiety, or depression
• Having judgmental thoughts towards clients
• Experiencing feelings of bitterness or resentment which you did not previously have when starting your position

What are the risk factors and how can they be avoided?

Risk factors:
• Age (those under 40 years old)
• Stage in work life (less than 10 years of work experience)
• Gender (being female)
• Marital status (being single)
• Long work hours (working 10-12 hours at a time or more)
• Minimal education
• High volume of workload
• Patient population (working with the chronically ill or incurable clients)
• Low social support
• Impaired emotional and physical health
• Inadequate resources to deal with the demands of the job
• A diminished sense of well-being

Working in the mental health field, you may find that you meet a few of the risk factors listed above. However, by engaging in self-care you can practice balancing both your professional and personal life by using some of the tips below.

Professional self-care:
• Engaging in activities that colleagues share together such as conferences, continuing education courses, or reading about the subject of burnout and becoming educated about it
• Taking paid time off for learning, vacation time, or sick leave
• Receiving supervisory and coworker support
• Keeping your supervision appointments and receiving supervision regularly to discuss your concerns
• Making time to take your allotted breaks
• Setting limits and boundaries with your clients and colleagues
• Recognizing your needs and limitations and asking for help when necessary
• Referring to the ethical guidelines for your field

Personal self-care:
• Engaging in things that that you enjoy to help you relieve stress
• Engaging in or taking on a new hobby
• Writing in a journal
• Reflecting on your values
• Taking time to relax, even if it is only for 30 minutes
• Taking time to rest, sleep, engage in physical exercise, and maintain proper nutrition
• Making time for self-awareness, self-reflection, and balance
• Rewarding yourself
• Receiving personal therapy

If you are starting to feel burnt-out, or have been for quite some time, remember that we are human and we are each limited in our abilities. Regularly engaging in self-care to alleviate burnout can help prevent harm to both yourself and your clients. Keep in mind that if we want to care for others, we must first ensure that we are appropriately caring for ourselves.


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