It’s R U OK? Day on September 10th, an important date that reminds us of the importance of looking out for each other, especially in the realm of mental wellbeing.
And it’s even more critical today because of the global pandemic which has resulted in a rapid increase in the level of psychological distress, anxiety and depression being reported.
Remember too those numbers don’t include those who may be affected but have either not put their hand up for support or are not ready yet to do so.
Research conducted in early March by the University of NSW into the perception about the risk of infection and transmission at that time found that 1/3 of the respondents were extremely concerned, with 70% of this group believing they were at risk of getting the infection and 61% thought they would be moderately to severely affected.
That’s a lot of fear being expressed.
Of the 5000+ people in a second survey, 78% reported their mental health had worsened during the outbreak and its peak. This was following the introduction of physical distancing, travel bans, closures of hotels, cinemas, gyms, cafes and restaurants and 14-day quarantine requirements for new arrivals.
- One in four were very worried about getting infected.
- Half were worried their friends or family would get infected.
- Levels of psychological distress were higher, with 62% experiencing depression 50% anxiety and 64% high stress.
Those already experiencing some level of mental health disorder were found to have higher levels of anxiety about health and fear of Covid-19.
The implication of this is clear; we have a second pandemic of mental health issues as a consequence of Covid-19.
With 45% of the adult Australian population experiencing some form of mental health problem at some point in their lives, it’s essential to look for ways of lowering the risk, managing mental distress more effectively and the reducing the cost of poor mental health to the individual, their families and the economy.
Early intervention is key.
Seeking ways to mitigate the impact of high stress starts by identifying the pain points leading to absenteeism, presenteeism and stress-related illness. The only way to find out is to ask.
How are individuals managing their existing workload?
What’s making it harder for them to do their work well?
And… What do we need to help reduce the amount of stress being endured?
It’s time to move beyond the first question of R U OK? and ask
“How can we get better at noticing and taking action to provide the necessary support and encouragement needed at the individual level?”
“How can we get better at creating mentally healthy workplaces, schools and communities that nurture mental wellbeing, especially for those seen as more vulnerable?”
Addressing mental wellbeing will be an ongoing and growing challenge as long as the pandemic continues (and beyond), meaning planning on managing this needs to start from today.
Mental Wellbeing For the Individual
Selfcare is NEVER selfish and is essential to your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
What are your non-negotiables you know make the difference to how you show up each day?
If selfcare is something you’ve deferred, overlooked or forgotten because you’ve prioritised other things and other people first. Now is the time to give yourself permission to be human and set the intention to eat more healthily, move more and get enough sleep.
Reclaim time for you
Expecting to be as productive as you were pre-COVID isn’t realistic and puts you at increased risk of exhaustion and burnout. Instead, do what you can and seek to find enjoyment in that. Set the intention to start each day on a positive note and ask “what can I do to be my best self and help others to be the same?”
Self-awareness helps to keep you safe. If you know how stress, anxiety or depression has impacted you in the past, what did you learn from that and what can you put in place to support yourself during these turbulent times? Tap into what gives you joy? What can you schedule into your diary as something to look forward to?
Loneliness is a scourge, and when social restrictions are in place meaning you can’t access your usual channels of social connection, it’s time to reach out, to contact a friend or family member you may not have spoken with for a while. Cultivate your sense of belonging at home, with your work colleagues and your friends. Which platform can you access to increase your level of social interaction?
Share your gift
The most precious gift you can ever share with another person is your full and undivided attention. Your presence, your ability to listen without judgement and your words show you’ve noticed a person in distress, and you care.
Here is an opportunity to rate yourself in different aspects of your life. This is a quick check-in to see how you are going, it’s completely anonymous and can be a useful cue to what needs your attention. The rating is from 0 to 10 being your best.
Mental Wellbeing For the Team
Create a culture founded on care
We all need to belong. Our need for human connection is as vital to our survival as air food and water. When the workplace environment has the right vibe, it’s a great place to be, and you want to be part of it. Care starts with empathetic leadership that seeks first to understand and then models those behaviours that support mental and physical wellbeing.
Your Champions for Mental Wellbeing
Education and training is one thing, but it’s the day-to-day activities that support mental wellbeing that count.
Having a core group of mental wellbeing champions from across the business or organisation can make a big difference, putting together regular activities that support wellbeing and inviting all to participate.
Process and ways of working can become entrenched as “the ways things are done around here.” By asking, “Is this still the best way or are there alternatives that might work better?” you can stimulate robust discussion and new ideas.
Maintain safety at all times
Psychological safety is essential in every workplace to enable each person to do their work to the level they know they are capable of and more. This is about promoting mutual trust and respect, providing certainty around our communication, providing autonomy and being fair in all our dealings. Relationships matter. They determine our level of discretionary effort and collaboration because we care deeply about how others perceive us.
One good thing to have come out of the pandemic is that we are willing to talk more about mental wellbeing and the prevention of psychological distress. Making mental wellbeing check-ins the norm helps everyone to understand we all have our times of ups and downs. What matters is recognising if you’ve hit a dip you’re struggling to get out of and using that insight to take action to rectify the situation. Having open and honest discussions in a safe environment helps every one to get to know each other better and can lead to new ways of working well together through the shared goal of greater mental wellbeing for all.
Mental wellbeing. It’s good for people, for teams and business.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues you can contact any of the services below
Beyond Blue Support Service – Support. Advice. Action.
Information and referral to relevant services for depression and anxiety-related matters. Phone: 1300 22 46 36
Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation. We help young people who are going through a tough time.
www.headspace.org.au/(link is external)
24 hour telephone counselling service. Phone: 13 11 14 or Text: 0477 13 11 14 6pm – midnight AEST
www.lifeline.org.au/(link is external)
A dedicated service for men with relationship and family concerns. Phone: 1300 78 99 78
www.mensline.org.au/(link is external)
SANE Australia is a national charity helping all Australians affected by mental illness lead a better life – through campaigning, education and research. SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends. It also operates a busy Helpline and website, which have thousands of contacts each year from around Australia. Phone: 1800 187 263
Relationships Australia is a leading provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities. Phone: 1300 364 277
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.