The mental health benefits of storytelling for health care workers

As if critical workforce shortages weren't enough, healthcare workers have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 global pandemic response, and even as the pandemic calms down, our hospital staff, allied health professionals and disability and aged care support workers are under increasing pressure to perform.

We know that the pandemic has impacted the mental health of our health workforce, and that self-care is more important for healthcare workers now than it's been in a very long time.

The foundations of self-care are important:

But, there's also emerging evidence that journalling is an important tool to help us overcome anxiety, depression, and stress and to build resilience.

The power of storytelling for healthcare workers

In her TED Talk "The mental health benefits of storytelling for health care workers", author Laurel Braitman shares her experience as 'writer-in-residence' at Stanford Medical School, the stories of healthcare workers trying to balance their professional calling with their mental health, and the power of storytelling and "sharing personal stories to help physicians, nurses, medical students, and other health professionals connect more meaningfully with themselves and others -- and make their emotional well-being a priority."

"If this was a mental health drug, it would be an absolute blockbuster. Results seem to last up to a month. It might be longer, a month is just when Candice stopped measuring. So we don't even know. Not only that, but 100 percent of our participants recommend these opportunities to a friend. For me, though, the most important thing that our work has done is create a culture of vulnerability in a place [where] there was absolutely none before. I think what this does is that it allows doctors and other folks an opportunity to envision a different kind of future for themselves and their patients." - Laurel Braitman

A few tips for starting on your journalling journey

  1. Make it easy. You don't have to write an essay, but you can if you want. If writing is challenging, try just writing a single sentence. If it comes easily, write as much as you want. The key is to just get started.
  2. Make it regular. Like almost everything else in life, journalling is a skill and requires practice to get good at it. It's also a habit that needs to be developed. A good way to start is to set a timer for 5 minutes and see how much you can put on the page. If it's a single sentence, that's great. If it's a paragraph or too, that's great too.
  3. Make it yours. There are no rules. The way you journal is the way you journal and it can take whatever form you like. What's most important is that it has some therapeutic value for you. You can write a story in the first person, a poem, or even draw how you feel or your experience. There are no rules.

What to do if self-care isn't working

Self-care is critical for healthcare workers. But, sometimes looking after yourself just isn't enough. If these or other self-care practices aren't helping you, or if you're feeling unusually low or mentally unwell, it's important to see your GP and talk to them about how you're feeling. Your GP can provide advice on how to manage your mental health, and link you in with mental health services if you need it.

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