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Safety Tips for Mental Health Technicians

Psychiatric hospitals can be difficult places to work. Though many doctors, nurses, social workers and other mental health professionals find it deeply rewarding, there’s no denying that working with mental health patients can be challenging. According to figures published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2013, healthcare workers suffer four times the worker assault rate as private industry.

All professionals that work in mental health settings face these dangers. So, it’s essential that both healthcare professionals, and the companies that employ them, work to mitigate the risks. Reducing violence in psychiatric hospitals, outpatient units, acute care and emergency departments will help to create a safe environment for both patients and medical professionals. This in turn will help to improve the level of care patients receive and make the mental health sector a better place to work.

What Does A Mental Health Tech Do?

Mental health technicians provide support to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in a range of clinical settings. Mental health techs can be found in most inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities. They are often called on to bathe, dress and help feed patients, observe patient behavior and escort patients to different treatment areas around the premises.

To become a mental health tech, you’ll need a high school diploma and possibly a bachelor’s degree in an associated area like psychology or social work. You’ll probably also need to complete a set number of hours of work experience before you qualify.

Risk Factors to Look For

There are a number of factors that can increase the chances of mental and behavioral health technicians experiencing violence in the workplace. These factors can be broadly divided into three categories: environmental and societal, staffing and workplace culture, and patient history.

Environmental and Societal Factors

Even though a lot of mental health care centers are secure or semi-secure facilities, the social issues that exist outside the hospital walls still find their way in. So, if a hospital is in an area with a high crime rate, a lot of homelessness or serious substance abuse issues, mental health technicians will be more likely to encounter violent or aggressive behavior.

Staffing and Workplace Culture

Reduced levels of staffing can result in doctors, nurses, and mental health techs facing more instances of aggressive or violent behavior. One study carried out in the UK found that low staffing levels lead directly to an increased risk of healthcare providers being exposed to incidences of violence or aggression. Having a workplace culture that doesn’t prioritize safety can also lead to techs experiencing more incidents of violent behavior. When managers don’t place an emphasis on violence prevention, it can be difficult for staff to get access to the resources and support they need to feel truly safe in the workplace.

Patient History of Violent Behavior

Patient history is one of the most important indicators when it comes to predicting violence. If a patient with a history of violence is suffering from acute mental illness, they’re at a high-risk of displaying erratic behavior and potentially becoming aggressive.

What Are the Hidden Costs of Violence?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace violence costs 500,000 employees 1.2 million workdays every year. This adds up to around $55 million in lost wages annually. As mental and behavioral health professionals experience more violence in the workplace than other workers, they’re likely to make up a disproportionate number of these employees.

As well as financial costs, violence in the workplace takes a significant toll on the mental well-being of staff members. Studies have shown that exposure to violence in the workplace can increase team members’ risk of developing a range of mental health issues including depression, PTSD and secondary trauma. These issues can result in more time off work and make it more difficult for psychiatric nurses, doctors and technicians to carry out their roles.

How to Prevent Violence Against Techs

Preventing violence against techs working in mental health facilities will help to improve patient care, boost staff retention and create a more secure and supportive work environment. There are a number of ways that hospitals and acute care providers can actively work to reduce violent incidents. These include training, risk assessments, and the installation of high-tech solutions.

Commitment from Leadership

In almost all cases, an effective violence prevention program requires the commitment of hospital managers and health care providers. It’s often managers and employers that set the tone for the work environment. So, if they value safety and put violence prevention on their priority list, this attitude will filter down to every mental health technician and nursing assistant.

A clear commitment from leadership should also make it easier for staff to get the funding they need to invest in violence prevention solutions. While few hospitals and treatment centers will be able to provide all of the support services staff require, investing in as much as budgets will allow should make a difference to the everyday safety of healthcare professionals.

Worksite Evaluation

Carrying out a worksite evaluation gives staff and managers the opportunity to really think about their workplace and the challenges they face. An evaluation should take a range of issues into account, including the physical dangers presented by the workplace (for example, poor lighting, limited escape routes, bad visibility). The evaluation should also look at standard workplace procedures including treatment plans and job training.

Identifying Hazards

A thorough worksite evaluation should allow managers to identify the main hazards faced by their staff. Identifying these hazards should make it easier for healthcare providers to put effective violence prevention strategies into place.

Maintaining Necessary Video and Alarm Systems

Technology can often be used to great effect to reduce aggressive behavior and prevent violence. While people experiencing mental health disorders may not be deterred from becoming violent by the presence of video and alarm systems, this targeted tech will make it easier for security personnel to come to the aid of a doctor, registered nurse, or psychiatric technician if they feel threatened.

As well as cameras and a standard alarm system, managers in mental health services should also consider investing in panic buttons. Providing panic buttons for healthcare workers in psychiatric hospitals allows staff members to call for help instantly and silently if they’re exposed to violence or aggression.

Healthcare panic buttons provide security staff with the exact location of the person who needs assistance. This ensures that help arrives as quickly as possible.

Developing Response Procedures

All mental health centers should develop their own violence response procedures. These procedures should include documenting and analyzing the incident. This kind of follow-up should also give all members of staff the opportunity to air their opinions and to discuss ways that similar events can be avoided in the future.

Staff Education and Training

Staff education and training is an incredibly important part of violence prevention. Teaching all staff members effective de-escalation techniques could help to stop patients becoming aggressive. Crisis intervention training can also help staff members to diffuse situations, protect their patients and create a more secure work environment.

Staff should also be trained in how to deal with pediatric psychiatric patients and patients with disabilities. This will help to ensure they have the confidence and competency to manage any situation.

Violence is a serious issue in most psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers. Both part-time and full-time mental health technicians face aggression on a daily basis. Investing in violence prevention programs, and creating a culture of safety within the workplace, will help to reduce violence and keep medical professionals, and the patients they care for, safe.

To learn more about panic buttons, and find out how our panic button systems are already keeping healthcare workers safe across the country, take a look around or get in touch with a member of our team. Request a Demo.

About Author

Yasmine Mustafa

Yasmine Mustafa believes ROAR found her, not the other way around. A former refugee and undocumented immigrant, she draws upon her unique life experiences to lead ROAR in its mission to empower and protect workers across all industries. Her journey is a testament to resilience and unwavering commitment. With over 15 years of leadership in the tech industry, including the successful sale of her first company, 123LinkIt, to a firm in Silicon Valley in 2009, Yasmine is a driving force for positive change, balancing profits with purpose. Yasmine’s workplace safety advocacy and leadership have earned recognition from the BBC, CNBC’s Upstart 100 and the City of Philadelphia. Yasmine is a highly sought-after conference speaker. A two-time TEDx speaker, Yasmine has also presented at the prestigious SXSW and CES conferences, sharing her deep passion for harnessing technology for positive change. Beyond her professional life, Yasmine enjoys time spent with friends and family, exploring the outdoors, biking, and hiking. She also dedicates her time to the boards of Coded by Kids, Leadership Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies.

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