In honor of May being both Women’s and Mental Health Awareness Month, UTMB Health wants to share how some of the women within the organization make a conscious effort to prioritize the mental health and well-being of themselves and others, despite the daily demands placed on them.

Dr. Leila Wood, the Director of Evaluation for the Center for Violence Prevention at UTMB, prioritizes her mental health and well-being by spending time with friends and family, exercising regularly and spending time in nature while juggling her professional and personal responsibilities.

“I spend some intentional time [building] a work schedule designed to meet my goals and work needs, but to also prioritize mental health,” Dr. Wood said. “I interview survivors of trauma, so I often will build in extra time before and after the interview to process what I have just heard and center myself for the work ahead.”

According to Dr. Wood, UTMB's support networks have been instrumental in helping her during trying times, encouraging her to seek help or take a break.

“Our team at Center for Violence Prevention is incredibly supportive. I know that if I have an intense interview or a challenge, my colleagues are just a text or phone call away to support me. The faculty at the School of Nursing is equally supportive,” Dr. Wood said. “I am also a big believer in therapy and medicine if that is what people need and want. Everyone deserves high-quality mental health care.”

Dr. Wood shared her insights with those who may be facing challenges prioritizing their mental health. Her recommendation to others is to allocate time for non-work-related activities that bring joy and balance to their lives.

“Advocate for yourself and surround yourself with people who will advocate for you and your needs,” Dr. Wood said. “Most occupational stress comes from structural and support issues for work. Support and resources are often the needed strategies, but many people don't ask for them. You deserve to have a safe, supportive work environment.”

Peer support is essential for Dr. Tammy Cupit, who is Director of Nursing Research & Evidence-Based Practice. She promotes the concept of how colleagues can support each other at work. She is a member of the Critical Outreach for Emotional Resilience & Well-Being team at UTMB. Other members of the team include Clinical Ethicist Dr. Jeff Farroni and Social Work Lead Rebecca Castro.

“As a team, we began receiving calls and providing peer support. As a group, we get together and allow people to discuss things without judgment, whatever they are feeling. As health care professionals, we try to remove hierarchies,” Dr. Cupit said. “We remove badges when people come in and we talk together. Understanding that we will have these challenges and how we can work towards them and support one another is important, as well as feeling that you are not alone and have a steady path."

UTMB actively encourages nurses and healthcare staff to prioritize their mental health by taking breaks and creating time for themselves. Dr. Cupit also emphasized the need for taking breaks and having personal time to avoid overstimulation, as their work may be physically demanding.

Managing stress is crucial to protecting one’s mental well-being, according to UTMB's Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Associate Professor and Fellowship Program Director, Dr. Shawn Nishi. Dr. Nishi finds support in her relationships with family, friends and colleagues who prioritize teamwork, humor and mental health. Even a small gesture, such as a text message, can make a significant difference in someone's well-being, Dr. Nishi said.

Dr. Nishi shared some tips on balancing work, family and personal life while maintaining one’s mental health, emphasizing that it is a continuous cycle and a constant work in progress.

“My goal is also to be very organized so that I know what's expected of me in advance and that conflicts and expectations can be resolved well in advance. However, I have to give myself some flexibility to not follow up 100% for the unexpected things life throws at us—and finally, be mindful of timing. The majority of things can be completed on a different and longer timeline than what I set for myself,” Dr. Nishi said. “I have to honestly ask myself, ‘Is my goal a want or a need? Do my expectations of what I want to accomplish match up with a realistic timeline? Is that timeline a want or a need?”

She also highlighted the importance of having a support system, which means not having to do everything alone.

For more information about UTMB Health, visit the website.

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