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Mental health comes first

The pandemic has tested us all in ways that we could not have imagined even a year ago. Setting aside the effects of any personal tragedy that may have affected our lives, changes in the workplace have disorientated some people to the point where their mental health has been compromised. Having to adapt to so much change, so quickly, has proved to be a challenge for which a lot of people have not been equipped to cope.

Experts now talk of mental conditions like burnout and ‘bore out’. Some of the symptoms – anxiety, stress, and fatigue are common to both, but occur for very different reasons; one relates to being overworked, while the other, bizarrely, is caused by not being challenged ENOUGH. Either way, the damage is real and the effects potentially devastating not just for the individuals involved but for companies which choose to ignore the telltale signs and fail to put support measures in place.

For doubters of the scale of the problem, The World Health Organisation calculates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1trn a year in lost productivity. It is bad for business.

Experts have come up with a variety of new terms relating to mental health. ‘Zoom fatigue’, for example, is used to describe the problem caused by people having to use extra brain power in virtual meetings to compensate for the loss of information normally gleaned from body language and facial expressions.

To back this up further, Google provides evidence that ordinary people are becoming more concerned about the changes taking place in their working lives. In 2020, the number of searches for ‘bore-out’ went up by 680% compared to a 45% increase in those researching ‘burn out’. Meanwhile, the number searches by people looking for ‘new morning routine’ ideas has risen 56% and by 400% for those seeking learning alternatives as a way of boosting career development.

Statistics can be found to support almost any argument but it’s a fact that the pandemic has led to many new mental health problems which call for solutions. Some are common sense; a morning routine is important to bring structure to a life spent working from home; people must take work breaks throughout the day; and notwithstanding current travel restrictions, staff should take advantage of their full annual holiday entitlement. More importantly, organisations should ensure that these small things happen.

There should be no stigma attached to protecting mental health in the workplace.