Drink and Drugs News DDN May 2020 (1) | Page 15

their philosophy about life. My study was based on the responses of six frontline staff working in the third sector, four male, and all of whom worked for the same charity providing services to clients affected by substance misuse. All six were given a semi-structured interview, then later asked to rate their responses to certain factors on a numerical scale. This was limited to symptoms they had experienced over the previous seven days. The interviews centred around three main themes – the positive and negative impact of working with people who use substances, coping strategies employed, and their beliefs about positive and negative impacts. One participant described having ‘flushes or sweats’ and being ‘unable to think straight’ at work, while another described coming ‘close to burnout’. One of the other participants said experiencing trauma drove him to ‘do things better next time around’. When it came to social relationships one participant admitted the trauma he suffered had destroyed his marriage: ‘I’ve left my wife. I couldn’t work here and be in that relationship anymore. I had to decide about my life, and I did. I’ve moved out, got a place on my own,’ he told the interviewers. Another participant said working with a troubled client had made her value her relationship at home more. Staff can be exposed to vivid descriptions of trauma, as well as accounts of neglect and abuse. The result is direct emotional distress, now recognised as STS. COPING STRATEGY A range of personal approaches were mentioned by participants as a way of coping with the negative impact of their work. One participant went mountain biking in pursuit of an adrenalin rush, another dealt with the stress by speaking to sympathetic colleagues and a third asked their boss to be taken off frontline duties. Some had arranged counselling outside of their work context and participants appeared to be actively responsible for seeking a personal approach that worked for them. In addition to personal approaches, some participants stated that work-based support was helpful, such as talking to other colleagues or supervisors. Others, though, felt that it wasn’t at all. Modification of work- based practices was also emphasised, ranging from absence from work due to sickness to planned or unplanned changes to their job role. My study found that the working environment can exacerbate symptoms of STS – a high caseload and the demands of the job itself were also culprits. Regular reviewing of caseloads can help to combat this by to ensuring a balance between trauma and non-trauma-related clients. The implications for staff and future policy makers are clear in recognising that STS can negatively affect wellbeing. The findings can help to assist with the development or refinement of specific organisational policies for staff to effectively carry out their duties and without compromising levels of care for those they work with. That’s because it’s clear STS can also affect client and organisation-level outcomes. The extent of STS among half of the sample in the UK study was categorically ‘high or ‘severe’. This reinforces the view that practitioners working in a substance misuse service require attention, especially by senior staff members, in the interest of managing and promoting a healthy workforce and environment. Victoria Hancock is a researcher at Birmingham City University’s Department of Psychology The full research paper, An exploratory study on secondary traumatic stress amongst substance misuse professionals, can be accessed by emailing Victoria. [email protected] WWW.DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS.COM They said what..? Spotlight on the national media THE RECENT SUGGESTION that we turn lockdown into ‘dry COVID’ is pompous at best, ambulance- chasing at worst. There’s a time and place to judge other people’s behaviour – now is not it… Alcohol dependence and using alcohol to cope are different beasts. Having a drink to unwind at the end of the day – particularly given the circumstances – doesn’t make you an alcoholic. Shaming and stigmatising those who enjoy an occasional drink is likely to lead to more irresponsible drinking. What we’re faced with right now is scary – and we need a way to collectively cope. So let’s have a drink – hell, let’s have two. A pandemic is not the moment to get on our high horses about one of the few things that make it more bearable. Chris Owen, Independent, 4 April NOW THAT WE ARE A MONTH INTO LOCKDOWN, it’s becoming clearer how some of us are getting through this pandemic. Some interesting differences are emerging, particularly in our use of alcohol to cope. Two distinct groups have formed: those who are moderating their intake of alcohol, and those who are drinking significantly more… It’s an uncomfortable truth that our favourite drug is the underlying cause of misery, violence and lives cut short. Yet our government remains silent on this issue, no doubt viewing alcohol consumption as a matter of choice and liberty, an ideology that an increasing number of children, partners and individuals will be paying a heavy price for. Ian Hamilton, Independent, 19 April I HAVEN’T HAD A DROP OF ALCOHOL IN FOUR WEEKS. While that statement may earn me the world’s tiniest violin, bear with me: it wasn’t intentional and I’m ‘There’s a time and place to judge other people’s behaviour – now is not it… Alcohol dependence and using alcohol to cope are different beasts.’ actually shocked. … I’m not remotely suggesting that people do ‘dry COVID’ – the deeply unpopular suggestion that people use lockdown as a time to be sober. Lockdown is such a mentally stressful time and people need to manage it in a way that is right for them as opposed to needing to reinvent themselves. But I do feel a lot more informed about how and why I drink by intuitively listening to whether or not I want to drink, and examining how I feel about it emotionally. Something tells me it will make me a much more mindful drinker and hopefully more impervious to peer pressure when normal life resumes once more. Poorna Bell, inews, 14 April THE GOVERNMENT HAS SHOWN NO CONCERN for the acute distress caused by the fact that the greatest number of prisoners ever are guarded by the fewest staff ever. It has been indifferent to the record number of assaults, self-harm, ambulance call-outs, suicides and other deaths in custody… Why must it take COVID-19 for the government to stop pursuing its relentless, uncaring, punitive policies and do the right thing? We won’t forget. Mark Johnson, Guardian, 7 April MAY 2020 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • 15