The last decade has seen an increased awareness on mental wellbeing across the life span including late life.
Generalisations and misconceptions about what it means to get old and the assumption that depression is a normal part of ageing are slowly fading.
A number of health services are available to support the emotional wellbeing of our elders across a range of settings and there are more opportunities for the workforce to receive training, education and support to meet the increased demands of their role.
In this post, I wanted to briefly cover some of the key concepts when discussing emotional and psychological wellbeing in aged care. The topics covered address my own doctorate research and clinical experience. We will review psychological presence at work, emotional contagion, empathy, mental health conditions and grief and loss.
This is a requirement of employees to be "fully there" both physically and emotionally and includes implementation of companionate love, feeling of intimacy and affection for another person but not necessarily experience passion.
Many professionals identify with their work and organisations to the extent of personalising every success and failure from their workplace which impacts their mood outside of work.
For some individuals there may be a discrepancy between the required and actual emotions experienced at work with larger discrepancy suggesting increased risk of stress, burnout and psychological separation from true self.
Emotional contagion theory suggests that people "catch" emotional projections from others in an automatic, fast and fleeting process.
Both positive and negative emotions are exchanged, and although we can see the benefits of the exchange of positive emotions, we need to pay more attention to the impact of negative emotions.
Individuals particularly susceptible to emotional contagion are those who pay close attention to others and are able to read others' emotional expressions, construe themselves as interrelated with others rather than independent and unique. Emotional contagion is characterised by genetics, gender, early experience, and personality characteristics and is often associated with other empathy variables such as empathic concern and communicative response. My PhD research found that home care workers could experience an improvement in their mood by attending to clients who were excited and open to receiving services, but on the other hand if the client was not in a good mood or was experiencing a mental health condition such as depression that this could negatively impact the worker and their own wellbeing. Some carers shared that they had requested not to be rostered on again with a client who was negatively impacting their own wellbeing.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is different to sympathy where we feel of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.
Expressing empathy in a care setting is particularly important in building rapport with clients, engaging active listening and not being judgmental.
Empathy is a trait and a skill which allows us to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and an activity which we all need to constantly refine to ensure quality service delivery.
Mental health conditions are common in individuals with declining health status and older adults who may in fact have no prior history of mental health conditions in their earlier lives. If an older person experiences depression for the first time in their late life this is called late onset depression.
Mental health conditions are diagnosed by doctors and mental health practitioners. Diagnosis cannot be made based on screening tests, assumptions or just because someone is having a bad day or a week.
Mental health conditions in late life are treatable and we can all learn a skill or two in how to engage and support elders who have diagnosed mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
Grief is a normal part of life, not a problem to be solved. We can all be affected by grief both personally and at a workplace.
Grief itself is not an illness but if prolonged and unresolved could lead to other barriers.
For example if a person has difficulty accepting that a loved one died a year on after their death and are acutely grieving at the same intensity in this timeframe. For older people, grief is not necessarily always associated with dying, they may be experiencing grief over the loss of their independence, health and change in environment.
Emotional and psychological wellbeing is a huge topic and one we can tackle by taking one simple step at the time to help our elders and also to improve our own resilience.
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