Why Self Care Is Crucial for Mental Health Care Professionals | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Why Self Care Is Crucial for Mental Health Care Professionals

By Joshualin Dean

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It is no secret that some of us are destined to become helpers and healers. For those of us working in mental health care, the role of healer includes being a safe space for people processing a whirlwind of complex emotions — a task that is incredibly rewarding.

However, when bearing witness to patients’ lived experience, some mental health care professionals may have to confront the resurfacing of their own past trauma. Sometimes, we even catch ourselves asking how we can be in the position to help others work through things while facing our own struggles.

It’s important to remember that caregivers (therapists, nurses, prescribers, etc.) are human, too. Like everyone, we have weathered challenging circumstances and sometimes struggle to prioritize our emotional well-being. To take care of our own mental health — and to do our work to the best of our ability — we have to practice what we preach to our patients: Self-care, self-care, self-care.

It is natural for us to walk alongside our clients, meet them where they are and help them on their path to healing. During that walk, we remind them that healing is not linear and though they will learn to better process and regulate their emotions, they may still experience days that are tougher than others. We may even say, “give yourself some grace” while meeting with them. So why is it so hard for us to take our own advice?

I would be lying to you if I told you that there weren’t days when I have found myself stewing with the frustration of feeling anything other than happy, focused and invincible. On those days, I have to remind myself that I am not invincible; I am human. No amount of training, coursework, on-the-job experience, webinars or certifications are going to fully eliminate days when caregivers also need a little pick-me-up. Being strong is fantastic, yes, but it is important to recognize that at the core, we feel and express some of the same emotions as those we help.

Being reflective and aware of things that may influence our day-to-day well-being is just as important for us to do as caregivers as it is for our patients and clients. Sometimes as new, or even experienced caregivers, we fail to allow ourselves the grace to feel and express emotions due to misguided belief that we must be strong and resilient at all times.

Being caregivers and professionals does not make us any less susceptible to fatigue and unwanted feelings than anyone else. We may even find that the unexpected road bumps we encounter bring about uncomfortable feelings we thought we had put away in the past. Encountering these road bumps does not make us any less qualified to help people navigate the battles that they struggle with, and it is important that we do not allow our own traumas to define us as professionals. One of the most powerful things we can do as caregivers is to lead by example. So be kind to yourself, show yourself some compassion and follow the same guidelines you give your clients because, after all, you are human, too.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).