Dr Helen Munro - 'Surviving or Thriving?'

Posted 05 May 2017

Date: 05 May 2017

Author: Dr Helen Munro

FSRH Member Dr Helen Munro on what it meanst to have 'good mental health' in support of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017.

Dr Helen Munro Photo FSRH Blog postSurviving or thriving?

This year FSRH is supporting the Mental Health Foundation campaign ‘Surviving or thriving’ to raise awareness of what it means to have ‘good mental health’ (Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 8-14 May). As clinicians and health professionals, we are acutely aware of how mental ill health can present and the impact that it can have on the individual, their family and the wider community. This year the Mental Health Foundation has flipped the focus away from ill-health to ask, ‘what are we doing to cultivate good mental health?’ A question perhaps, not to ask our patients - but to ask ourselves.

We are living in a time of unprecedented pressures on our health care system with greater demand for services and fewer available resources. One cannot help but notice the cruel irony of healthcare practitioners, supposedly the carers and “fixers” of illness, bearing the consequences of these pressures on their own mental well-being. This detrimental mental health effect is well documented, but I don’t even need to read a poll or survey to see what the effects of austerity are on my work colleagues: high sickness levels, low morale, frustration and even resignation. A NHS staff survey found that 38% of respondents had been unwell because of work-related stress in the previous year, higher still among nursing staff, and 69% admitted to working despite not feeling well (1). Haven’t we all done that? Too often we ‘soldier on’ not wanting to let our colleagues or patients down. But this cultural habit of ‘presenteeism’ is harmful and may in time lead to stress and burnout, which in turn impacts our patients.

One of the main focuses of the FSRH Standards for Workload in Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare is about protecting the health of the professional through recommending minimal standards in which doctors should work and be supported. The Standard Statement on length of consultation supports a minimum recommended time for a new-patient consultation of 30 minutes (Standard 2.1) with time designated for writing notes (Standard 2.4). The Standard Statement on Individual Clinician workload advises that doctors need a rest break of 20 minutes in every six hours of clinical work. And training clinics should include time for assessment and feedback (5.Standard Statement on Training and Assessment). Furthermore, working in effective teams has been shown to produce higher quality safer working conditions (2); benefiting patient care and improving staff satisfaction levels. The Standard Statement on Skill Mix in the framework of FSRH Standards for Workload promotes the importance of teamwork, encouraging a skill mix within the service to maximise each individual’s potential and provide a supportive effective working environment.

Surviving or Thriving - Mental Health Awareness Week ImageSo, are you thriving or barely surviving at the moment? The Mental Health Foundation suggests ten simple steps to help look after our mental health;

1) Talk about your feelings - Will and Harry can do it! Counselling is available through the Doctor Advisor Service and BMA Counselling. There is also the Doctor’s Support Network, NHS Practitioner Health Programme to support GPs and GP trainees and the Royal College of Psychiatrists provide further information on confidential services available.

2) Keep active - I don’t think 10,000 steps clocked up on your fitbit walking between the ‘lab’ to the waiting room and your clinic room really counts. Dust off the trainers and join a park run.

3) Eat well - or just eat! Make sure you take time for your lunch as an integral part of your day and not eating in the car between clinics or between patients.

4) Drink sensibly - When life can be summed up in two words ‘wine and work’, it’s time to reassess.

5) Keep in touch - Have you an idea to feedback to FSRH? Do you want a voice on issues relating to SRH in the UK and further afield? Get involved

6) Ask for help - Don’t isolate yourself from your colleagues. Working in effective teams is safer, healthier and more productive.

7) Take a break - Did you have your 20 minutes protected rest today? And checking your emails while eating a sandwich at your desk does not count!

8) Do something you’re good at - Something that makes you happy, I would add, and preferably not work related.

9) Accept who you are - Despite the fact that your key ring may say ‘Superwoman/man’ you cannot be everything to everyone all of the time. Give yourself a break.

10) Care for others - I think we have this one wrapped up!

The current financial constraints on our services will continue and resources will remain tight for the foreseeable future. But we will continue to provide high standards of care for our patients often going beyond our job descriptions to help and to show care - because that’s what we do. But I challenge you not to allow this to be at the detriment of your own ‘good mental health’. This Mental Health Week, pick one of the above and start to make a positive change in your life.



1. The Point of Care Foundation, 2014. Staff care. How to engage staff in the NHS and why it matters. [pdf] Available at: < https://www.pointofcarefoundation.org.uk/evidence/staff-care-report/> [Accessed 04 May 2017]

2. West, M., 2013. Michael West: Developing cultures of high-quality care. [pdf] Available at: <https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/audio-video/michael-west-developing-cultures-high-quality-care> [Accessed 04 May 2017]

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