Managing emergencies in general practice

Part C – Mental health in emergencies

Self-care for GPs and practice staff

Last revised: 21 Jan 2020

In a crisis situation, GPs, medical practitioners, mental health nurses, nurses and other health professionals are encouraged to work together to provide essential medical services.

GPs and other health professionals play a pivotal role in caring for and supporting those affected by natural disasters and emergencies. With a large influx of patients requiring assistance within short timeframes, front-line responders tend to overlook their own personal needs for support and instead focus on other people requiring medical attention.

Further, it is important to recognise that in a disaster GPs and other healthcare professionals can be both the victim and the responder.

This can put additional stress on already busy GPs, especially if their own practices, family homes and communities have been affected. The effects of disasters and emergencies permeate both the professional and personal lives of GPs and their practice teams. As health professionals are vulnerable to the same emotional and psychological responses as the public, it is important to be attentive to the challenges.

To be resilient, GPs and other staff in the practice team must acknowledge and address their own psychological needs. The additional demands on GPs and practice teams during this time intensify the need for self-monitoring and self-care strategies that assist with professional resilience. GPs should be attuned to physical and emotional vulnerabilities and attend to pre-existing stressors.

Refer to Box 8 for some suggested self-care strategies that GPs and their practice teams might use to enhance resilience during a crisis situation.

Box 8. Practising self-care

  • Ask yourself:
    • How am I going? – What do I need?
  • Check on your family and friends in disaster-affected areas to ensure their safety – this will help to alleviate potential anxiety and concern for loved ones.
  • Limit your exposure to a tolerable level.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Accept appropriate assistance offered to allow yourself time away from work.
  • Monitor your own distress level.
  • Notice where you embody stress and attend to your physical needs as much as possible.
  • Maintain good general health with regular exercise, good nutrition and regular sleep habits.
  • Use your personal and family support network.
  • Maintain contact with friends and family, and talk to support people about your experiences and feelings.
  • Increase interaction with professional peers.
  • Engage in activities that balance work and non-work life.
  • Maintain connections with organisations or activities that are meaningful to you.
  • Seek help if needed from:
    • your GP
    • colleagues
    • the RACGP – members have access to additional supports and psychology services – other professional associations.
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