Executive Director NAMI-New York State
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Addressing COVID Mental Health Effects at Work

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Not only has the pandemic caused a tremendous amount of stress, but it has also exacerbated many people's mental health disorders. How can you make the work environment a safe and comfortable place for them, and ensure everyone is coping well with current events? Here are some tips from the New York State branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Jan 22nd 2021
Executive Director NAMI-New York State
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The events of 2020 have led to an increased interest in mental health as rates of depression and anxiety rise, and it is no secret that stress can exacerbate mental health issues. Regardless of whether that stress is a result of personal or professional concerns, they can still exhibit in the workplace. Mental health issues can significantly affect employees’ performance and productivity.

Firm owners can have help managing your employees' mental health by creating a culture of wellbeing in the workplace. Some of the steps an employer can take to encourage the office environment to be more mentally healthy are:

  • Show your subordinates you appreciate their work. Each employee makes a contribution to the company’s success, and acknowledgement of that contributes to their feeling of value.
  • Listen to them-show them that you care about their overall wellbeing.
  • Be aware of the environment you are promoting: are employees receiving unreasonable demands? Is Management being transparent? Do employees have discretion around their work?
  • Learn from other companies how they are addressing the mental health needs of their employees.
  • Ensure employees have access to mental health services through their healthcare plans and other resources, both within and outside the company.
  • Understand that mental health issues impact the whole family-be sympathetic if an employee needs to address a loved one’s mental health issue, just as you would for any other medical issue.

Co-workers also play a role in promoting a culture of mental wellbeing. During this time of imposed isolation, it can be difficult to gain awareness of how your colleagues are coping. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • If you see a change in a colleague’s mood, don’t be afraid to ask if everything is ok.
  • Don’t be afraid to be honest-it is ok to say if you are having a bad day.
  • Really listen when someone opens up to you (and reserve judgement).
  • Don’t be afraid to express concerns and offer to help when you perceive someone struggling.
  • Don’t allow mental health issues to become contagious-if anyone reacts to you in an uncharacteristically negative way, stop and ask why this it is happening before reacting.

Some of the signs that an employee may be struggling with mental health issues can include changes in mood, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, missed work, anxiety, depression and decreased performance. Like many physical health complaints, without treatment and support, an individual’s mental health condition will continue to deteriorate.

Companies fortunate enough to have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can refer employees who may be struggling with a variety of issues, including substance use, mental health and emotional problems. EAP’s provide counseling and resources, including referrals if needed. 

If employees are unsure about how to access mental health services, and there is no EAP available, recommend they start by contacting their primary care practitioner, who can then refer them to additional resources if needed. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is another resource that, in addition to providing support groups and classes free of charge, operates a helpline dedicated to referring individuals to resources and services in the local community.  You can reach the New York State NAMI at [email protected] or 518-462-2000 for more information.

A note about working remotely: during the pandemic, many offices transitioned to remote work. This transition disrupted the routines of many and in some cases created distractions for people not used to working from home. For those who have struggled to acclimate, some tips to keep in mind:

  • Be sure and maintain a routine; set regular hours for work, meals, exercise/relaxation and family time.
  • Create an office space apart from your living space, one that is aesthetically pleasing to you.
  • Limit distractions as much as possible (not always easy with young children or pets around!)
  • Make time for exercise, get plenty of sunlight, eat healthy foods, practice mindfulness and try and get plenty of sleep.
  • Stay connected with friends, family and co-workers; even when socially distanced, there are so many ways to remain in touch.

Finally, whether in an office setting or working from home, be sure to practice selfcare. Make time for you and take assessment of your own needs. Poor mental health can affect physical health, which is another reason why it is so important to take a whole body approach when addressing any mental health concerns.  Particularly if you supervise others, your employees will take their cue from your attitude and overall wellbeing. To take care of others, you must also take care of you.

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