Working in the mental health field is rewarding and always engaging. Every day I go to work and have no idea what challenges await me. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but there are many misconceptions about the field that have carried over from pop culture’s portrayal of men in white jumpsuits strapping patients down to gurneys for some depraved form of “treatment.” In reality, the job requires the ability to think on your feet and provide a safe environment for those struggling with their mental health.
There is a great deal to learn when beginning a career as a mental health worker. Keeping the following tips in mind is a great place to start.
1. Leave Your Mood/Attitude At Home
There’s nothing more distracting in a facility than a mental health worker who is clearly in a bad mood. Many patients have been suffering from severe depression for quite a long time. The last thing they need is to see their support staff in a glum mood. I make a habit of always walking in the door with a smile, even if I’m not in the best of moods. There will be time to dwell on my personal problems when I get home.
2. Be Prepared to Lean On Your Team
In mental health facilities, safety is always a top priority. That means the safety of the patient and the safety of the employees. By fostering good teamwork, we can prevent the risk of injury by constant communication and trust in our coworkers. No one should have to work in this field without a strong team, and in my experience an attitude of self-reliance puts everyone at risk.
3. Document Everything
It’s not uncommon for someone who is paranoid or psychotic to imagine or suspect inappropriate behavior by the staff. The only protection you have is to be sure you document any unusual or noteworthy exchanges between staff and patient. You will also want to note any unusual exchange between the patients, as it may become important if the issue escalates. Get in the habit early of writing everything down and keeping it handy for future use.
4. Know You Are Being Watched
In my experience, mental health workers tend to underestimate how receptive their patients are. There’s no getting around it, patients will watch you and notice how you interact. In my supervisory role, I’ve received many complaints about staff sleeping on the job, fighting with their co-workers, and much more. There’s no place for this sort of behavior on a mental health unit.
5. Take Initiative
During my first year as a mental health worker, I noticed that our clothing closet was depleted, so I started a community clothing drive to restock it. During Christmas time, I held a drive to collect donations to provide the patients with a Christmas tree and some small gifts. This kind of initiative separated me from my co-workers and most certainly aided in getting promoted. Take pride in your place of work and always strive to make it the best it can possibly be.