Mental Health on Placement

So today’s blog post is kinda throwing it back to my old style. Just me and the keyboard, sitting talking about a topic or something in my life.

Usually, some topics sit and burn with me, but then after a while I’ll come round or accept something. But I do think it’s SO important to talk about feelings and worries on placement. Not only does it help other people, but it helps yourself. Almost a “aaah, so it’s not just me!”

Hopefully today I’ll discuss how some aspects of placement affected my mental health and what I did, if I could, to overcome them to make sure I was in a better mind space – I hope it can help some of you too!

There’s too much paperwork.

We’re all thinking it when we start placement, why is there so much paper?! This has something that’s bothered me less as placements have gone on, but trust me, I know what it feels like surrounded by mountains of forms and no clue what to write and a lot of the time thinking “why have I got to do this”. I don’t want to bang on like everybody else when I say this, but the art of reflecting is KEY to developing your skills and moving forward in your career. I don’t just use forms to reflect but I write posts (many of what end up in drafts on my computer) and make infographics to help me learn in the future. But the key is with paperwork to keep on top of it – be organised!! Better said then done I know, but by doing every piece of paperwork as you get it, you can file it away and forget about it until your next meeting or review. I make keys and labels to tell me what forms are for what, and I also keep a tally chart of what forms show what competencies I’ve achieved and what not. Sounds complicated and a lot of effort, but a little bit of hard work as you go along saves you SOO much stress. You know where you’re at, you’re know what things are for and you know you’ve got it done. Don’t panic. And don’t keep any paper you don’t need, it’ll just way your bag down and put you in a grump.

I feel like I’ve been stripped of my identity.

I know. Rather dramatic statement to make, but that is simply how I have felt whilst on placement. There can be a hierarchy where you work (anywhere to be honest, not just placement) and students are expected to be by the book. No exceptions to the rule, you have to be perfect. Well that’s not me. I’m not gonna turn up with perfectly styled hair every morning because ya know, I’m human. Sometimes you oversleep or sometimes (most of the time on placement) you’re just too damn tired to do anything than chuck on your tunic and brush your teeth. It’s hard. It can get you really down when people comment on your appearance and the way you dress. The one thing I’ve been told to do is remember that when I’m an actual Dietitian, no one will be this hard on me. Your team become your friends and people will understand. Some placements you become part of the team with anyway and some you don’t. I’ve experienced them both. Just rise above comments. Do your best.

Another thing I struggle with and I’m sure many of you guys do too, is lack of personality within the way you dress. For me, I have many accessories and quirks which make me feel like me and I can feel quite lost without them, however stupid it may sound. Bare below the elbow is crucial, so it can’t be argued that rings and watches can’t be worn for health and safety. However, some things can be difficult to deal with. Plain hair accessories, minimal make up, certain exact pair of black trousers, hair scrapped back so tightly you’re gonna pull your skin off. For me, none of these were like what I am normally. As a student you often can’t be yourself, you’re almost just playing along to tick the boxes. For me, this is painful. I don’t want to be a robot, I want to speak up for myself, but this could ultimately make me fail. Not the way it should be and it’s extremely damaging to mental health, but you have to literally rise above it. Take out your frustrations and go that extra mile to succeed. Prove people wrong. Soon you’ll be your own person again and you just have to keep telling yourself that!

Most of the time on placement you aren’t going to get the chance to have those things, but by putting on jewellery or certain clothes when you get home (not just PJs all the time – that gets you down too!) or saving a special day on the weekend to get dressed up, that can make you feel like to kept your identity too. It’s hard to slip out and feel lost but honestly, just make an effort where you can!

I just don’t feel like I’m good enough.

But the fact is, you are. Dietetics is a very very competitive course to get on. Not just anybody gets on to a Dietetics course. They require lots of hard work, lots of passion and a good amount of intelligence to get on to. So to get where you are today, you are good enough. No one is “naturally born” a dietitian. Dietitians make it look so easy and sometimes, you don’t feel like you’re going to be able to learn everything is such a short space of time. But don’t worry, that’ll be you one day, helping the student learn just as much as everyone helped you! And remember, Dietetics is so brilliant because you can’t know everything. We’re always learning, there’s new research and guidelines coming out and there’s new products and innovations to aid nutritional care too. It’s so exciting and not one day is the same! A few Dietitians have told me that being a band 5 is just like being on a big paid placement, you’re constantly learning new and developing your skills.

I don’t know how I’m going to balance placement life and work and try to keep sane?!

You know what, this is probably the hardest thing to master, but you have to find a way that works for you in order to succeed and balance. Placement is exhausting, so you have to factor that in when planning in your life. Plan things to look forward to, whether that be a treat at the weekend, your family coming to visit or booking a holiday or a trip in the near future! But the key is not to over fill your life. If you’re working part time, draw the line at how much you can physically work. Avoid late nights if you can and at least allow you a day to rest and time each evening to relax and unwind. Bulk make dinners at the weekend so you have more free time in the evenings to chill. Try not to work too much in the evenings either. Set yourself a time limit, stick to it and then allow yourself time to release all the stress before bed. Whether that be gym, gentle yoga or some ice cream in front of Coronation Street, you do your thing! Oh and yeah, if you’re finding the balance hard, remember you have a good support network around you on placement: your course mates, your mentor, your placement supervisor, your lecturers and of course, family and friends. There’s also well-being services and counselling opportunities at your university too if you feel you need them – I’ve used them before and as a free service you can’t go wrong! You don’t know if you don’t try.

This isn’t for me!

Sounds like a scary thought, but if you’re really not enjoying Dietetics, it’s putting your mental health on the line and you’ve tried everything to try and make it work, then don’t worry. Not everything is for everyone and it’s okay to admit it. I’ve had times where I’ve thought “god, is this gonna be the rest of my life?!” But then I’ve also had thoughts where I’m like “I can’t wait to do this for the rest of my life!!”. It’s tricky. Some things we swim in and somethings we sink. It’s getting the balance. But if you’re sinking more than you’re swimming then that’s okay too. There’s so many other roads you can go down in nutrition without being clinical and doing Dietetics. You may also be more interested in another healthcare course what you’ve fallen in love with whilst you were studying. Speak out. Speak to your uni whether changing courses is viable – lots of modules are very similar in some courses so you may not have to do a whole other course all over again. Trust your gut. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Go with your happiness.

I hope these short little stories as answers to your questions has helped some of you with worries or difficulties with your mental health on placement. Remember, you’re not alone, even when you think you are, and there’s always someone nearby who’s willing to let a helping hand.

Emma x

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About the Author

Emma is a pre-registration Dietitian and Registered Associate Nutritionist based in Cheshire, England. Emma works in community healthcare and writes freelance alongside her work: topics including Dietetic life, nutrition, mental health and lifestyle. Emma also writes and photographs recipes for the platform, as well as being the author of the ‘Mummy and Me’ series for SR Nutrition. Emma’s Food Stories is PR friendly brand.

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