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It has never been more important to stay conscious of our health and wellbeing as we move into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mark Aitken from Nurse and Midwife Support (NM Support) says that this includes recognising and treating burnout.

Mr Aitken, a registered nurse who is a Consultant and Stakeholder Engagement Manager with the organisation, says there are many reasons why nurses and midwives contact Nurse and Midwife Support.

“They ring us for workplace stress, bullying and harassment, occupational violence, anxiety, depression [and] drug and alcohol use issues.”

Given the variety of presentations that NM Support deals with, burnout is better recognised within its definition by the World Health Organization as a syndrome that results from the unsuccessful management of chronic workplace stress, Mr Aitkin says.

Mr Aitkin says it is important to recognise that burnout is a condition with its own parameters.

“It’s got three dimensions.

“The feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of being negative or cynical related to the job; and reduced professional effectiveness or efficacy.”

As a counselling service, Mr Aitken says that his organisation often takes calls from people who are unsure what burnout is and what they need, and the service often has to tease out someone’s story.

If someone presents with signs of burnout, the staff member taking the phone call will attempt to confirm that feeling with the nurse or midwife, and then steps will be taken to connect that person to ongoing support.

“Our service provides brief intervention counselling and referral pathways… In that circumstance, we probably refer them back to their GP and talk to them about a mental health plan and their ability to access it,” Mr Aitkin says of people who show signs of burnout. This often leads to regular engagement with a psychologist, he says.

“A lot of nurses and midwives take that as a referral pathway, and it’s probably at that point that they get formally diagnosed as burnt out, through the process of assessment with their psychologist.”

While agitation, avoidance, irritability and hopelessness are just some of the feelings associated with burnout, according to NM Support’s web resource, Mr Aitken says it is important to recognise that while burnout is a significant challenge, it’s not insurmountable.

“People need hope… they can expect and be hopeful that, if they are experiencing burn out, or the symptoms of burn out, that they will recover,” Mr Aitken says.

“But they need support, they need care, and they often need professional treatment to be able to recover, and that’s really fundamental here: If you’re experiencing signs and symptoms of burnout that you actually pause, take a break from your work and that you reach out for support.

“Make yourself and your recovery a priority.”

More information on burnout, including self-assessment tools, can be found on the Nursing and Midwifery Support website.

If this article left you feeling unsure, anxious or exhausted, you can also call the Nurse and Midwife Support hotline, a 24/7 phone service, at 1800 667 877. An email service is also available.