The mental health upside of the pandemic

Are you OK? 

Well, quite honestly, not really. At some point over the last 18 months, surely all of us have had our wobbles, our moments of anxiety, and even our episodes of real despair or situational depression. Our sense of feeling safe, the belief that “bad things happen to other people, not me” all that has been shattered.

Workplace upheaval, lockdowns and isolation, anxiety about getting sick, financial worries, bereavement – we have all been confronting a cocktail of challenges that we have never had to confront before. And so many of our normal self-care strategies – exercise, social activities, getting out into nature – were taken away or compromised.

So where’s the upside?

I like to think that we can take something positive from this pain and discomfort. Most of us have navigated these challenges, and now we have new buzzwords and shareable experiences: we talk with fresh insight about our increased agility, flexibility, resilience and gratitude.

Never before has there been so much reflection on mental health and wellbeing. I think it’s been a valuable lesson in empathy – in taking a walk in the other person’s shoes, the person who suffers from anxiety, despair, not coping, even when we’re not in a global pandemic.

Of course, we can’t make the mistake of thinking that an episode of struggle with a particular situation is the same as having an ongoing mental health issue. But remembering the pain and discomfort we experienced can help us to read the signs, to better engage and connect, and to be able to relate – with credibility, with empathy and with compassion.

Speaking very practically, what I often see in workplaces is a real uncertainty of how to make a connection with an employee or workmate who appears to be struggling: What do I say? How do I talk to the person? Sure, I can start with “Are you OK?” – but then what?

Here are my suggestions to keep in mind.

Do:

·      Invite the person to talk openly

·      Listen actively with an open mind and without judgement

·      Respond appropriately, calmly and not disproportionately to the disclosure

·      Show compassion and empathy

·      Follow their lead in giving them the space to share what is most important to them

·      Don’t over-promise what you may not be able to deliver

·      Share mental health resources that are available in your workplace  

Don’t:

·      Make assumptions about the person

·      Take on the role of counsellor

·      Show strong emotion – the conversation should be safe and ‘normalised’, as if it were about a physical health condition

·      Take on their struggle – they’re not asking for you to rescue them

·      Forget to look after yourself and practice your own self care

But it’s not enough to show individual empathy and compassion. We also need a framework to keep building resilience. One thing I’d love to see become common practice in workplaces as we navigate our way into a new, hopefully improved normality is to set up storytelling workshops, encouraging and supporting employees to share their stories of this period. Sharing the struggles and the lessons learned allows strength-based learning – encouraging people to honour what they achieved individually to bring that sense of achievement and possibility back to empower the group.

Let’s hold on to some of the good stuff, as we hopefully start to put the struggle and discomfort of this pandemic period behind us.

 

Don’t hesitate to get with me in touch for advice on putting in place a framework to support mental health and resilience at your workplace. Contact me by email at debbie@dksonin.com.au, on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/debbiesonin or by phone on 0413 145 925.

 

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