Monday, 18 May 2020

What working in healthcare during a pandemic has taught me about kindness

Julia shares her experience with working in healthcare during a global pandemic. 

- Julia

Fresh out of a music degree, I decided to pursue medicine as a career and dived into a healthcare assistant role at my local hospital between degrees to get a feel of the health profession and learn care skills. Little did I know I would end up working through this pandemic 6 months into my job.

Having bipolar disorder, I have been worried about the effects of working in unstable and stressful conditions, and while I have had wobbles with my mental health, the kindness I have been shown and taught has actually been beneficial to my mental health. The kindness I have experienced has kept me going during a tough time and prevented my mental health from deteriorating more so than other more formal treatments I’ve had. The theme of ‘kindness’ couldn’t be more pertinent this week, when the country and particularly healthcare staff have united to treat people with pure kindness in an effort to heal the suffering some people are going through.

  1. Being a community – the kindness shown by my colleagues in supporting each other is truly not self-serving but about building a community of care. I have spent time off work recently with covid-19 for a few weeks myself, having caught it through my job. What has really helped pull me up has been the messages of kindness from my colleagues checking in (along with family and friends). For people to reach out and look out for those in the community and on their teams is invaluable in improving mental wellbeing. This is also seen in the amazing relief work around the country with people looking out for more vulnerable neighbours and raising money for the cause.
  2. Giving care to others – I’ve realised that, although I cared and gave support before, now I value the emotional needs of others more and more on a small scale. When my patients are distressed or upset, during this time I can put myself in their shoes and see why being in hospital is such an unusual and unpleasant situation for most people – it’s often one of their worst days. Being able to hand someone a cup of tea, support them with their personal needs, or see them become more comfortable with my care also shows how easily little acts of kindness can have a massive effect on someone’s lowest moments.
  3. Seeing the lengths people go to – I am always in awe of the lengths that my colleagues and fellow healthcare workers go to make someone feel valued or well. In some places, staff have made sure that patients can see family over Facetime while they are not allowed to be there in person. In others, staff will sit in uncomfortable PPE to be with someone in their last moments when their family cannot. It is pure kindness and respect to others.
There is little doubt that this time is difficult for mental health – we are thrown into new schedules, see grieving on an unprecedented scale, and for those like myself, already with a mental health diagnosis, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy mind and lifestyle during this experience. But, alongside support from my personal medical team and the medication I need, it is seeing and taking parts in act of care that has helped both my mental health and that of those around me – whether staff, patients of general public. The author Ian McClaren said to ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle’, reflecting the importance of kindness for kindness’ sake – we do not know how others are feeling or what they experience, so we must assume that the small act of kindness we bestow is the most important that we ever will. And it is this kindness that I have learnt to give unconditionally in healthcare and in greater life, for both my mental health and those around me.

For additional resources on supporting your mental health through COVID-19, please see here. 

Julia is a music graduate from Oxford University, currently working as a healthcare assistant in Oxford before pursuing a graduate entry medicine degree at Warwick in September 2020. She was previously editor of the Student Minds Blog, and is a Student Minds peer support supervisor. She has bipolar disorder and likes to spend time educating on this stigmatised condition and also breaking the stigma of having a mental health diagnosis in academia and medicine.



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