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Press Pause for Mental Health

Mental health has dominated headlines in recent weeks, as several athletes have effectively pressed pause during high-level competitions and tournaments, most notably tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles. Osaka withdrew from the French Open and decided not to participate in Wimbledon, and Biles withdrew from several gymnastics events at the 2020 (2021?) Summer Olympics.

As usual, the reactions from the public were divided, but they received tremendous support from their fellow athletes. People on the outside simply don’t understand or can’t relate to the incredible amount of pressure placed on these athletes by coaches, fans, and often themselves to perform consistently at the top level of their sport.

As sterile processing and infection control professionals, your job mandates that you also perform consistently at the highest level to maintain patient safety. A mistake has the potential to be catastrophic, and those outside of your profession don’t understand the intricacies and demands of cleaning surgical instruments. Your colleagues understand perfectly.

The past year and a half has been difficult and stressful for all of us. We have all experienced disruptions in our private and professional lives, and many have also experienced loss. When hospitals halted elective procedures, many SPD professionals saw themselves handling other duties to assist nurses and doctors who were on the front line caring for COVID-19 patients. Now that many hospitals are back to doing elective procedures and SPDs are back to reprocessing vital surgical instruments, we are faced with the Delta variant of COVID-19 filling hospital beds with patients. Now healthcare professionals are, or will soon be, stretched thin. This is the perfect cocktail for stress.

As Simone Biles recently demonstrated for us, we are especially prone to mistakes when we aren’t performing to the best of our abilities. She was smart to press pause to protect herself and take on the negative stigma surrounding mental health. What Biles realized is that she is surrounded by a team of extraordinarily talented athletes who support her, just as she has supports them. She gave her team credit for their silver medal win. At this point, the story wasn’t so much about Simone withdrawing from competition, but about how she needed to address her own mental health and rely on the support and talent of her coaches and teammates, and they didn’t let her down.

Sterile processing professionals really aren’t so different. You’re highly trained and stay on top by continuously learning, and you’re surrounded by a team of supportive and knowledgeable colleagues who all have the same goal: upholding patient safety. The main difference is you don’t get medals or endorsements at the end of your shift, but you do get the satisfaction that your performance that day made a difference in patient outcomes.

It’s okay to struggle; in fact, it’s inhuman not to struggle. It’s okay to ask for help and for your colleagues to ask for help. You’re all in this together and the success of one contributes to the success of all. Nobody likes failure, which is why it’s imperative to step up to ensure success and to reach out to someone in need. Taking a mental health break isn’t a sign of weakness or failure; it’s a sign that you’ve been overstressed and you need a moment to catch your breath and work it out in your head. The weak bend; the strong break, but only under extraordinary forces.

Because we sometimes break doesn’t mean that we remain broken. If we’re smart, we take the time to learn from our experience. What happened? Could it have been avoided? What can I do moving forward to improve my situation and possibly avoid something similar in the future? Answer those questions honestly and you’re on your way to learning a life lesson, putting the event behind you, and moving forward a stronger, smarter person than you were.

It is unfortunate that Osaka and Biles needed to step away from competition, but at least they didn’t wait until it was too late for them. They could have injured themselves, faced further deterioration of their mental health, or both. The public nature of their actions both shined a light on mental health and self-care and chipped away at the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

The timing could not have been better for shining a spotlight on mental health. The world has experienced a disastrous 2020 and 2021 held hope as vaccines became available and many of us looked to sports, concerts, and other events to live life again and give us all something or someone to cheer for. The tragedy of COVID-19 combined with the elation of regaining some sense of normalcy in our lives, only to have that elation quashed by the extremely infectious Delta variant, and all that comes with it, highlights the spectrum of emotions, and those emotions are high. This is when the pressure becomes too much for us, the stress takes over, and we need to press pause. This is a human response, and we are all human. Take care of yourselves so that you may continue to care for your patients. We all appreciate you.

Mike Mackenzie is the marketing specialist for Ultra Clean Systems and editor-in-chief of NewSplash.

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