October is World Mental Health month and is driven by the World Health Organisation. This year feels cautiously optimistic as restrictions are lifted, vaccination rates are increasing, and the number of cases declines. The challenges of the pandemic are still present however vaccinations and continued observation of preventative measures have allowed us to return to some sort of normality. The complexity and seriousness of the situation that the pandemic created has sharpened our focus on our mental health and the effects of neglecting it.
Mental health wellbeing has been described by the world economic forum as a ‘public health must’. As a result, mental health awareness bodies such as Mental Health Reform, Irelands leading coalition on mental health is requesting that the government invest €85 million in maintaining and updating Ireland mental health services for Budget 2022 (mentalhealthreform.ie) Consequently, the awareness that the pandemic has created about mental health issues presents an opportunity for greater openness and discussion.
Mental Health Self-Care
The anxiety and fear caused by the pandemic are normal and legitimate responses. Consequently, many mental health awareness organisations offer practical ways for individuals to incorporate mental health self-care into daily life.
Specifically, in relation to managing anxiety cause by the COVID Pandemic, Aware recommend the following:
- Reduce our intake of news: while it is vital to keep up to date with developments and guidance from the HSE and Department of Health, having and checking a constant news feed is not helpful.
- Use reliable sources for information: The HSE and Department of Health websites are the most reliable sources of information during this emergency.
- Limit Social Media: Try to limit your exposure to social media and phone use during this time. Many studies indicate the link between excessive and uncontrolled use of mobile phones with anxiety and depression.
- Stay connected: Keeping in contact with loved ones, even if you (or they) are in isolation, is crucial. We are relational beings and keeping in touch is very good for our mental health. Watch out for older people living near you, are they alone, do they have everything they need?
- Care for our physical health: Looking after our physical health is vital at this time.
- Exercise: Try to maintain your exercise routine. With the weather not too cold yet, you can still get out and about in fresh air, go for a walk, go for a run, go cycling and keep your body moving. Keep up these activities unless you are told not to leave your house at all.
- Nutrition: Take care to eat well, a good balanced nutritious diet. Eating food fresh food, with lots of fruit and vegetables, is good for health, both physical and mental. Try not to consume too many sugary foods, they impact mood. Monitor your caffeine intake. Also, Alcohol is a depressant, so be careful with your intake. Have you watched Sarah Keogh’s talk on Nutrition and Mental Health?
- Sleep: Maintaining good sleep routine is really helpful when trying to look after your mental health. Aim to keep to your normal routine of going to bed and getting up at a specific time. Dr. Breege Leddy gives excellent advice on managing your sleep in her talk for Aware. She also wrote a blog titled: Minding Your Sleep During Covid-19.
For more serious cases, you may need to seek support from external professionals. Your GP can offer medical support and will guide you to what best suits your needs. The link below also provides a list of support options from expert & professionals.
Mental Health at Work
Significantly, many organisations are preparing for employees to return to their workplaces. The attitudes among employees to returning to work will vary, but the need to create a reassuring and positive atmosphere will be essential.
Understanding what will contribute to a positive re-entry to the workplace for employees will help. Some suggestions include:
- Communicate improvements made to the safety and cleanliness of the work environment (e.g. CO2 monitors, upgrades to ventilation, more touchless technology etc.)
- Ask employees to express an opinion (even anonymously) about how they feel about returning to their workplace
- Communicate early and often with employees about returning to the workplace such as the reasons why and request feedback about what is and is not working.
- Acknowledging that the switch from remote to onsite activity will be a gradual one and treat the return to the office as an adjustable and changeable situation.
- Allowing employees to experiment with different ways of working, to ease themselves back into the workplace (hybrid, flexible days etc.)
Support for mental health charities have suffered in recent times so even if you don’t need to access their services, why not consider a donation or organising a charity event to support your local mental health charity this World Mental Health Day.
Editors Note: Originally published in October 2020, however, it has been updated to acknowledge the return to the workplace.
Gallo, A (2021), ‘Help You Employees Who Are Anxious About Returning To The Office’, Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2021/07/help-your-employees-who-are-anxious-about-returning-to-the-office)
‘Ten communication imperatives for returning to office’ – https://bcw-global.com/thought-leadership/2021-07-09-ten-communications-imperatives-for-returning-to-office
Van Ongevalle, Julie (2021)’The pandemic has made mental wellbeing a public health must’ (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/pandemic-mental-health-wellness-self-care/)