Tips to manage mental health at work during Covid-19

Everyone has their good days and bad days, right? That’s natural as a human being. But what happens when the bad days become more frequent than the good days, and then in fact, the bad days become so constant that you can barely remember good days and feel no longer able to go to work?

Unfortunately, that’s the experience of many people; regardless of their class, age, gender or race.  Sadly too, due to the ‘Covid season’ we are living in, more people will have experienced psychological distress and acute or post-traumatic stress, due to, for example, the nature of their work, concerns for vulnerable dependents, financial uncertainty, and grief from the loss of a loved one.  

So, what can we do? In recent months, there’s been a movement to Be Kind. I think that a good starting place is to be kind to ourselves. This should apply regardless of whether we consider ourselves to be in good or poor mental health. In practice this can mean keeping hydrated and eating well, taking proper or short and frequent breaks from work, going out for a walk, confiding in a supportive friend or a counsellor, taking some annual leave from work, watching that movie, and so on.

We should also be kind to one another. At work, this can translate to being considerate, supportive and patient towards colleagues. Not easy when plates are spinning, and the workload is piling. But can it make a difference? Yes, it can.  

For employers, when dealing with workers with mental health problems, this can mean taking greater account of an individual’s needs; either whilst they are at work or when planning their return to work following a bout of poor health or furlough. Supervisors and managers are key in creating a safe and supportive culture, for example, by showing an honest interest in their team member’s personal situation and allowing a slow and controlled increase of workload.

Recently published research by IOSH identified a range of trajectories that workers with mental health problems go through as part of their return to work – with some able to return quicker than others. The study suggests timely interventions and emphasises the need for more tailored approaches. I can understand that. We’re all different, have different circumstances, therefore why should one size fit all?

So, what are some of the things an organisation can do? It may seem obvious but here are three steps:

  • Create a safe, welcoming and stigma-free work environment. Positive culture starts with leadership messages from senior management that are reinforced throughout the management
  • Be vigilant for any signs that staff may be struggling and act if they are. Effective action may prevent them from going off sick to begin with and timely interventions can prevent more severe mental health problems and long return to work trajectories.
  • Take a personalised approach with workers returning to work, for example, stay in regular contact while they are away and adjust return to work support to suit each individual worker.

A few days ago, on  10 October we remembered World Mental Health Day, which aimed to highlight the need to increase investment in mental health. To raise awareness, we organised number of activities including a webinar which I was a panellist on. The webinar revisited the damaging work-related psychosocial pressures caused or worsened by Covid-19 and its impacts and advised on several strategies to protect the mental health of workers. You can now watch the recording here

Let’s continue to remember that just like physical health, having good mental health should be an ongoing priority.

Be kind – to yourself and to others.

Mary Ogungbeje
OSH Research Manager
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  • IOSH News release