The mental health implications caused by Covid-19 have been called “a second pandemic. In the last year we have seen a rise in unemployment, social isolation and economic uncertainty. Many of us feel more detached from others than ever before, and working from home is likely to be the new norm for the foreseeable future
You probably made it a habit to regularly check in with your colleagues back in March when the pandemic first hit. Many companies even adopted more frequent team meetings and check-ins as part of their support package while working from home. However, Zoom fatigue and longer hours have become a part of our daily routine and these check ins have slipped down a lot of people’s to-do lists
In spite of this, it’s important to continue having conversations with your colleagues about their wellbeing and mental health and how you can support them, not just on mental health holidays, but regularly.
Talking about mental health can feel awkward at first, especially if you haven’t done so before, or if you’re unsure how the person will respond. The good news is that the more you talk about mental health the easier it becomes, and having open conversations is key to embedding an open and honest culture in your workplace
So how do you start a conversation about mental health? Here are some of our best tips:
Talk about mental health as you would physical health
The World Health Organisation states ‘there is no health without mental health’ – something we think is the key to breaking down barriers when having difficult conversations
You’d probably ask your colleague about the neck pain or headaches they’ve been experiencing since they started working from home, or about a new yoga class they’re trying on the weekend. You might even mention you’ve started getting hay fever this spring. When having conversations about how someone has been and how their health is try to ask about their mental health too
It could be something as small as saying “it’s good to hear your headaches are getting better, are you still feeling stressed about that deadline? I know it’s hard with the kids at home but let me know if I can help”. It needn’t be a heart to heart, or a long conversation, but letting someone know you’re there for them is a great first step
Share what you’re comfortable with
A great way to normalise conversations about mental health and wellbeing is by letting others know it’s not an off limits subject. You could open up discussions by saying something like “I’ve been so tired lately, working from home makes it difficult for me to switch off, and so does my anxiety – how have you been sleeping?”
If you haven’t had a close connection or friendship with that particular person in the past you might want to start off with something even smaller, perhaps sharing how stressful work or volunteering has been lately. You can take small steps to build up to what might feel like tougher questions and you don’t need to stress about trying to cover all bases straight away
Really listen to them
When talking to your colleague try to focus on them and their experience in a non-judgemental way. We all cope with stress and problems in different ways; what might not seem a big deal to you could be causing them a great deal of difficulty, so try to legitimise their feelings and make them feel heard.
Try to keep an ear out for recurring feelings or themes, such as financial concerns, feelings of loneliness or stress and try not to get too lost in the details, which can distract you from the bigger picture of what’s going on with them. Remember, you’re there to support them rather than solve all of their problems, so you don’t need to get too into the specifics.
If you’re unable to talk to your colleague, or something is interfering with being able to listen to them properly, like an urgent email or your own stress, offer to reschedule for a time when you can listen.
Sometimes these conversations can feel daunting, and you might be worried about saying ‘the wrong thing’ but try to remember that simply being there is the first step in supporting someone, and often it’s better to say something than nothing at all.
If you’re ever worried that someone may harm themselves, or others, it’s important to call 999 to get support.