Mind Your Head During Covid-19
29 April 2020
Bushfires, drought, deadly pandemic, social isolation, and now – impending economic recession. It’s safe to say people in 2020 are grappling with all manner of challenges – and our collective mental wellbeing may be at stake if we don’t stay on the alert.
In the words of philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti ‘It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society’. The theorist was not referring to a physically ill society in this famous quote from 1975, but a dysfunctional culture. Point is, it would be unusual if we weren’t struggling with our emotions, moods and minds right now. And the numbers show we are, in droves.
‘it’s the lack of human connection that’s a risk factor for many people, and the loneliness that is coming with it’
The Lifeline suicide prevention line received more phone calls on Good Friday this Easter than in their 60-year history – hard evidence that the current situation is harming a lot of people’s mental wellbeing.
The psychological impact of this global disaster won’t be measured properly for years, but statistics are showing it’s the lack of human connection that’s a risk factor for many people, and the loneliness that is coming with it. For others, it’s financial pressure, increased domestic violence risk, working from home stressors, or even just the mental processing of these extraordinary life events.
While Australia is better resourced than many other nations in this area, it’s important to be reminded of the support services out there at our disposal, so we all know what to do when our mental well-being needs a little TLC.
CCER also published this article on mental health at work before the pandemic.
‘a good manager should listen confidentially without judgement, and acknowledge without agreeing.’
External Mental Health Support
AccessEAP: A member-based service that CCER and many of our members use. This provides staff with limited free access to phone or web based counselling sessions, as well as a great and useful resource library.
Coronavirus.beyondblue: This is a new free mental health source created by the government, uniquely for COVID-19-related mental health issues. The Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service is a free telehealth counselling service by mental health professionals available 24/7. The service is a collaboration between Beyond Blue and The Federal Department of Health.
Lifeline: Australia’s leading over the phone suicide-prevention hotline Lifeline received more calls in March 2020 than in their 60-year history. They have recently received additional government funding to handle the upsurge and support more callers.
Beyond Blue: Beyond Blue is a depression support service that has received record numbers of visits to their support chat rooms this year – from the fires to COVID-19. People can chat to other people who are struggling, or to qualified support people.
Internal Support (Support from Within your Organisation)
According to AHRI (Australian HR Institute), only 3% of staff will go to their HR person if they have a mental health concern or are feeling sad, depressed or anxious. Often employees don’t feel comfortable about making such disclosures, perhaps for fear of repercussions on their job. It is vital to a high-functioning workplace that staff feel like they can disclose personal challenges with management, and a good manager should listen confidentially without judgement, and acknowledge without agreeing.
AccessEAP suggests another option is implementing a buddy system – pairing up with someone else from work and venting with them. Almost like a sponsor in a 12-Step Program. Some of our staff are having video-chat-coffee-dates. We also have a dedicated manager who is acting as an online ear when we want to talk or debrief during this time.
Each of our virtual workplaces will handle this differently, depending on a number of factors, but support can be effective as long as there is communication and regular check-ins.
‘Everyone is different, but it’s important to be aware that what might be most productive for you and your mind, may be different to others in your workforce.’
Manage Your Perspective
While toxic positivity (the coping strategy of ‘just think positive’) may be more harmful than helpful for many, a perspective change or adjustment in thinking can offer a buffer zone from unproductive thinking, and an opportunity for reframing an issue or focusing on being grateful.
Recently the Black Dog Institute spoke at CCER about mental health in the workplace, back in pre-pandemic days, and gratitude journaling was suggested as a way of changing your neural pathways. Studies show it can have a big impact on your mental wellbeing. An example of a gratitude journal entry could be simply writing ‘I am grateful I have a roof over my head’, or ‘I am grateful for my dog,’ – it doesn’t have to be profound, and it doesn’t have to take time.
A lot of mental health articles suggest people limit their news consumption. While this may work for some in relieving anxiety, for others watching the news might keep their mind occupied and it might create a sense of calm as they have a feeling of control over what they know. Everyone is different, but it’s important to be aware that what might be most productive for you and your mind, may be different to others in your workforce.
Substance Reliance and Domestic Abuse
It’s no surprise that in a culture that’s been stripped of its drinking playgrounds, people have been taking the party home. There are many online forums to support people who may be drinking to excess and with associated problems like family impacts and financial costs.
Alcohol abuse is a close cousin of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse incidents in Australia have seen a disturbing spike, pulling the shades off a dark underworld that the UN is now referring to as a shadow pandemic. Around the world countries are seeing similar spikes in domestic violence: USA – 35% spike, France – 30% increase in distress calls, Singapore – 30% more calls, Spain – 18% more calls.
There are support groups out there all over the world that are working overtime right now.
Australian Support Lines for Domestic Abuse
‘If someone in the workplace suspects that someone else is struggling, it’s ok to ask if they’re ok, give them the chance to talk, or offer support.’
Stay Productive, But Give Yourself A Break
For some, it can be difficult to maintain productivity when WFH, especially if you have children, flatmates and family around.
We suggest finding a way of working that suits you. Working in shorter sprints works for some – this way you are able to take breaks during the day to manage kids and household, whilst still being productive in your work. Try to stay connected via online platforms with your team. This can help develop working relationships and help boost motivation and productivity.
Give yourself a break – figurately and literally. Frequent breaks are said to increase productively, but also don’t be hard on yourself if you have an unproductive day.
NASA Astronauts make sure they work out 2 hours a day when they are in space. This is to maintain their sanity – and, also because they know the huge positive influence of exercise on your body and your mind. It’s vital for good mental stability, which leads to good decision making, clarity and focus, which leads to success at work.
While we may be stuck at home, we are allowed out to exercise! And the trusty internet has millions of workout videos for you to keep active. Share some links to good ones with your co-workers.
Laugh It Off
Keeping a sense of humour is important for a lot of people’s ability to function. Mark Twain said that “Humour is the great thing, the saving thing after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”
Applications such Microsoft Teams can be a good way of maintaining the usual office humour. The current crisis has seen a wealth of memes and gifs that might be shared with colleagues.
No Magic Formula
Like with any health ailment there is no one-step solution that will guarantee everyone relief from mental-aches, because we have our own genetic makeup and lived experience. Caring for mental wellbeing takes a combination of things that work personally for individuals.
In the virtual workplace where visibility is harder, managers could try establishing online ways to check-in and keep an eye on their team member’s mental health. If someone in the workplace suspects that someone else is struggling, it’s ok to ask if they’re ok, give them the chance to talk, or offer support. It might also be appropriate to have a quiet word with the manager to let them know you have concerns about a colleague.
As with any advice, take what works for you and leave the rest.
*Note: CCER does not give legal advice and this should not be taken as such.
Jessica Noble is the Communications Manager at CCER