Services, Anxiety

10 September, 2017

Take a minute for you

Bairbre Fee, an assistant psychologist who works on our Living Through Distress Programme talks us through the importance of taking a minute for ourselves.

World Suicide Prevention Day took place on 10 September this year and the theme invited us to consider how taking just a minute could change a life. 

The team behind the Living through Distress programme here at St Patrick's Mental Health Services (SPMHS) has given some thought to how GPs and healthcare professionals can get the most from that minute. 

This programme is aimed at service users who find their emotions difficult to regulate. Participants often report urges to self-harm or carry out behaviours that are self-damaging. This programme is available for inpatients and day patients.

Take a minute for you

As a GP, it can be challenging if we can’t leave stresses we might have at work at the door. Mindfulness is a skill that we encourage in the programme, but it’s also something that GPs can use for their own mental health. 

We sometimes refer to mindfulness as a superpower, because, with practice, we’ve seen how it can help anchor us, so we can be fully engaged in the present moment.

As a team we take a minute (two on a good day) to practice mindfulness to help us settle ourselves before we go in to individual or group work. 

Many individuals contemplating suicide have reported that they were waiting for someone to notice that they are struggling, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Taking a mindful moment helps us to focus and participate fully in our interactions with our patients, instead of being caught up in thoughts around outside demands or problems. We have a better chance of tuning in to their struggle.

Take a minute to ask about suicide

Talking about suicide is part of our work and, during our programme orientation, we ask directly about previous attempts and whether a client has current plans. 

Yet we know that people were more likely to have contact with primary care than mental health services in the year, and even month, leading up to suicide. In one study, just 8.5% of adults over 55 were in contact with mental health services versus 77% seeing their GP in the year prior to dying by suicide. 

Hearing that someone is actively suicidal often provokes a need to respond and move towards urgent action.
Using mindfulness not only helps us to take a minute to ask the difficult questions, but also to stay engaged, to hear the answer and accept what the patient is currently feeling, without pushing for change immediately. 

It is interesting that Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, which informs much of our work, focuses as much on acceptance as it does on change.

Ask your patient to take a minute

It is important that we ask our patients to take a minute before acting on an urge or reacting to a situation.

One of the skills taught on our programme is STOP! It is an acronym that stands for:

  • S – STOP
  • T - Take a step back
  • O - Observe 
  • P – Proceed mindfully.

It is about learning the habit of hitting pause. 

A minute’s grounding can help us proceed mindfully to consider what is effective right now, what needs to be done, what is the wisest course of action in this moment.

It might not necessarily lead to feeling better in the short-term, but it could buy time and time that could be life-saving. 

Maybe we could all benefit from taking a minute.

Author: Bairbre Fee
Department of Psychology, SPMHS

Tags:   STOP   Living Through Distress   Mindfulness  

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