Exploring the Impact That Service Users Have on the Psychological Wellbeing of Mental Health Support Workers

Miller, Jonathan
Shepherd, Daniel
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Bachelor of Health Science (Honours)
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Auckland University of Technology

Despite contributing 33% of the adult mental health workforce, support workers have a dearth of academic research supporting them. Working in the field of mental health you are more likely to experience burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious trauma. The effects of this leads to poor job satisfaction, higher turnover of staff and a negative impact on wellbeing of workers. The aim of this research is to contribute towards the small body of literature that focuses on the support worker role. Specifically exploring the impact that service users have on the psychological wellbeing of mental health support workers.

A qualitative descriptive methodology was adopted to research this topic. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. Findings suggested that service users influenced the wellbeing of support workers, but the level of impact was affected by a variety of factors. One factor was the idea of the participants needing to know their limits in both the professional role but also their emotional capacity. They also described the importance of needing a wellbeing plan as though it was an essential job requirement. An additional factor was maintaining healthy boundaries which the participants described as only being learnt from experience, not from professional training. They also shared the psychological struggles of the role and that despite their best efforts work still manages to come home with them. Participants brought up varying situations about how it affected their life that echoes symptoms of the psychological issues discussed earlier. However, despite this the participants never spoke negatively about the service users, acknowledging that service users were unwell when the support workers received abuse from them. This hopeful lens highlights the importance and hope that support workers can bring to the adult mental health sector and further research should be conducted to support them.

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