Your Voice – Mental Health and Professional Advice

In 2017, CSMLS sent a survey to all members asking them to impart their professional wisdom so, together, we could help the future medical laboratory workforce. The survey asked, “If you could teach students one thing today that you have learned in your career, what would that be?” We want to share some of those quotes with you as it may help support your mental health along they way and better prepare you for the future.

Also, we want to include your voice on the stress of mental health taken from other CSMLS studies and personal messages that we have received. Those who sent us their stories enriched our view of mental health in the profession.

These words reinforced that we need to stand together as a professional community and support one another. Through the Mental Health Initiative, which includes this Toolkit, our signed Declaration to support mental health in the workplace and continued efforts to advocate on your behalf, is important to CSMLS and our members. Together we are enacting change each day.

Here is a perfect example of why it is so important to make change:

Advice for Students and New Professionals

This is important – these are the words of current medical laboratory professionals who live and breathe their work with passion. They know a thing or two (well, much more than that!) and want to make sure you have a good start in your career.

Think about advice this way – if someone says “don’t panic”, please don’t take it at its most simple level. Instead, find something in this Toolkit that will help you NOT to panic before the time comes (examples: stress relievers, mood monitors, survey to gauge your stress level). Advice is worth the most when you truly do something with it.

A lot of teamwork is needed in this profession. Even if you're finished your bench, it's important to help others who haven't. Teamwork!!! Always remember there is a patient at the end of all of the work we do!
Do not panic in a stressful situation, it will only make it worse. Know how to prioritize and ask for help if you are sinking!
Do not succumb to stress. If the pressure is on to perform quickly with accuracy and precision in an emergency situation, just take a deep breath and stay calm.
The most helpful is how to adapt to changes in the way testing is performed and how you deal with that on the job.
Do not be discouraged by techs with the attitude that, because you are a student, you know nothing. Listen, learn from their experience and don't be afraid to teach us some of the "new" things. We aren't all "mean". YOU are the faces of my healthcare and personally, I want you to be the best you can be.
Don't be afraid to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. You will learn more and become a better technologist in the process.
Get involved above and beyond the routine lab work- make those connections.
Have passion in helping patients and be proud to be a professional.
If it could be one thing? I would teach them the skills they need to "speak up," by this I mean:
Understanding that by not speaking up with the public, colleagues, decision makers, other HCPs they are giving away their own power.
It's okay to ask for help / a second opinion. And don't ever release results if you are unsure of the result / don't feel it was processed correctly. Communicate with members of your team and other teams that support you.

Members and Their Mental Health Stories

These are the words of CSMLS member. It’s true. A straight copy and paste (with a tweak for spelling or removal of identifying information). What is exciting is the degree to which medical laboratory professionals all across Canada are starting to stand up and say that they are experiencing mental health issues or illness. They are breaking down the stigma of mental health with their stories and bringing awareness to an important topic.

Need to prove the burden is real? Start out by examining the burnout level for CSMLS members in this article and read our CSMLS Mental Health Report.

Also, you can use these quotes to tell the med lab story to administration, management and others.

You are not alone.

Lab Problems That Can Cause Mental Health Strain

Reactions to Mental Health Stressors

I tend to withdraw initially, then get angry, and talk it over with others. I have also found lately that I have physical symptoms especially if I don't get enough rest. My stomach is upset and I more easily get headaches. Depending on what else is going on I also get sad which leads to more withdrawal.
My workplace has Employee Assistance Program and that is what a manager will suggest. In my experience, it provides coping strategies. Workplace stress spills into your personal life and sleeping patterns.
My initial reaction is frustration because workplace stressors happen often. I am a creative person and can troubleshoot easily, however, often the problem is not mine to solve. The solutions are left to the supervisors and the management team. As much as I try not to vent my frustration to coworkers, sometimes that is my only resort. When work stressors are not dealt with, I feel most technologists take the attitude of "come in, get the work done, go home". Most of my coworkers are passionate about their work, driven, and hard workers, but the negativity often felt in the workplace can damper such positive attitudes.
It depends on the situation. There are times I have cried or screamed, usually when working alone. It is a way to relieve some stress. When working with others I have cried but usually, I gossip with coworkers. We talk about the situation with each other. This either calms me down or works me up more.
I believe institutions do possess the ability to put the right people in the right jobs, provide necessary training and development to current employees, or discipline people appropriately if the situation merits it. Burying your head in the sand and hoping that the situation goes away is not an effective way to drive change or resolve problems.
Physical responses include insomnia and weight gain/loss leading to heightened emotional responses. I would like to think that I am cognizant of my emotional response to stress, but I found that I am becoming increasingly angered, feel defeated/disengaged, and exhausted. I use to have more energy to try to solve problems, but many collaborative efforts have become a one-person crusade as others are also feeling burned out or feel that their efforts are for nothing. The workplace has become very gossipy, and I have tried to stay away from that which means taking breaks alone. It is difficult to create a "team" when everyone has become isolated.
I use sarcasm, rather bitingly and often. That usually degenerates to anger and then withdrawal. I no longer take any of my breaks with my immediate co-workers. We work in a rather small room, considering the numbers of us on shift, no windows. Getting together with core lab, blood bank and micro was a way to remain connected. Stressors affect us all and breaks tend to be a time when all that was rehashed over and over. I retreat on my breaks to an area where I am totally removed from those negative discussions. This has helped temper the sarcasm and anger somewhat.
We have an offsite Employee Assistance Program. The counsellors are quite helpful. I've used them quite a bit. We can access their services quite privately.
Our organization is great with providing many different ways to build up resilience. There are Mindfulness activities that are promoted by the organization and are practiced quite widely. There are wellness facilities on site that you can utilize. Sessions during lunch breaks and after work. An Employee Assistance Program is offered as well. There are also educational opportunities provided by the organization - all of which is are beneficial. In fact, we can schedule time with an onsite registered massage therapist. The organization does provide supports but the reality is that you hit a point where the pressures are so great that they become unmanageable - I am reluctant to really dig into this with my leadership because I have seen their schedules/activities and know that they are in the same boat.
Our HR persons are either untrained in stress relieving counseling or are simply absent. The staff does not have a 'go to' place within the facility. We do have a 'break room' where there are books and a quiet area if someone just needs to get away. Unfortunately, there are not always enough minutes in a day to take advantage of down time and relax.

Ways to Help Mental Health in The Lab

I have been organizing a "night out" twice a month for co-workers. At these, we try to not discuss work and laugh a little more than usual. I have found over the years this helps. We never drink too much and no one gets out of line but it reminds people that their coworkers are people too with real world stuff that goes on and don't want to make your life miserable. The key is to invite everyone so no one's feelings are hurt.
Encourage the professionals to bring their training and expertise to the forefront when dealing with peers and public. … Our national society lobbies the Federal Government every year during Med Lab Week by holding meetings with Cabinet Ministers in Ottawa urging them to support our profession, advocate for more training centers, more funding for Teaching Techs in practicum placement facilities and more. Unfortunately, the response at the Federal level is often "health care is a Provincial matter". By the very nature of our profession, we are seldom heard or seen. Many peers are of the opinion we simply draw blood. Where they think the test results come from is a mystery.
An open platform for repercussion free discussion among staff and management/corporate office will be of great help. Obviously, we also need to speak up or attempt to convey the message rather than just keeping the matter to ourselves. I remember a telephone advert- "Barriers break when people talk".
I think a greater public awareness needs to be done for our profession. All people ever hear are you are waiting because we are waiting for lab results. We should publicly publish our TAT's (turnaround time) so people know that their waits are not due to lab results. Schools need to start talking about opening up programs, many labs are run with one technologist to 7-8 MLAs. It is not fair to either profession.
Advocacy from our own management would be nice. Our lab manager has referred to us as "just lab techs" on more than one occasion to those outside the lab. Our chief pathologist could also help raise our profile. That requires demanding respect.
I think communication is a big thing. Open communication needs to be in every workplace. Workers need to feel they can express themselves and be heard and be a valuable member of their department team. Knowledge sharing between senior staff and junior staff so the patients receive the best care at the end of the day. Management support and leadership would go a long way to encourage staff and have them be the best workers they can.
Get more time for students in placements/internships to better prepare them for what's in store for them once they're out in the workforce. Keep the communication lines open between schools and health care organizations.
By [management] lending an ear to all staff and making them feel valued it speaks volumes to the stress we deal with on a daily basis.
An exercise facility on site would be very beneficial. Mediation and exercise (yoga) classes offered during the work week would be a great tool to help employees who are dealing with stress.
Have an open door to the employees that are experiencing workplace stress, be confidential about the situation, make them feel their secret is safe with you, and make them aware of different stress-free courses/ classes that the hospital offers.