We’ve been working from home far longer than initially anticipated and mental malaise is creeping in.Here’s how you can get mental health assistance within the boundaries of the lockdown
words maki molapo
Working from home has proven to be more challenging than working from the office in some respects, especially for those who don’t take well to change. And the pandemic has brought plenty of it. The isolation created by the pandemic has, in one way or another, affected our mental wellbeing – especially where work is concerned. As a result, employees struggle to express their own mental health challenges or report them in order to make use of company resources remotely.
Industrial Psychologist, Ruwa Ntuli, says it’s firstly important to differentiate between working from home (the freedom of choosing a workstation – coffee shop, friend’s house – that has no distractions) and at home (working amid distractions and domestic responsibilities). Because of the lockdown restrictions, most people are working at home and this can result in unexpected mental health challenges – even if you live alone.
However, before seeking out assistance, there are a few behavioural patterns to observe that will help identify if there is a mental health problem. Clinical Psychologist, Rasego Morena, says one of the most common tell-tale signs is inefficiency at work, which is referred to as anhedonia (a lack of interest in activities), feeling lethargic (you’re not really tired but your body just doesn’t allow you to work) and fatigue.
Morena explains that just feeling tired could be a sign of burning out, “a common mental disorder that attacks people at work, especially now because [they’re] working remotely and there is no peer support or supervision.” He further explains that there is also compassion fatigue where employees experience emotional or physical exhaustion from empathising with their colleagues – a negative cost for caring. Ntuli adds that other signs can be seen in “how you respond to kids [if you live with any], abnormal sleeping and eating patterns”. Morena says the severity of burnouts, compassion fatigue or fatigue can lead to depression and anxiety disorder. However, to know if they have escalated to that point, “you’ll start to experience symptoms like lack of sleep, anhedonia, feeling sad, feeling like you’re not going to meet your deadlines, helplessness and hopelessness.” Morena adds that, “the feeling of agitation and restlessness, accompanied by anxiety about generic things, could be an anxiety disorder. This can result from being overworked or lack of supervision.”
Ntuli also cautions against ‘presenteeism’ – a term which she says describes a common behaviour among working individuals who feel the need to show their colleagues or managers that they’re ‘working’ by constantly being online. She says in some cases the employees are not being productive and this type of behaviour could be guilt, a demand from management, the management style (autocratic or micromanagers) or focussing on actions and not deliverables. Ntuli says this drives them to over represent themselves by, “being at work but for longer than is required.”
Ntuli says the dynamics of seeking help depends on the kind of company you work for. She says you can make use of the wellness division or contact the human resources department to refer you to available resources within the company. “Usually companies subscribe to a wellness institution that can assist people,” she says. But for small businesses that aren’t as established to have these resources, Ntuli says they should collaborate with mental health professionals to find solutions in addition to mental health professionals educating them on the importance of having these systems in place. Morena adds that Covid-19 has limited access to mental health institutions, at the same time employees fear seeking mental help especially when there isn’t a clear line of reporting these issues in businesses. He advises, though, that employees should consult a psychologist or make their immediate supervisor aware. However, this may lead to managers fearing that the employee won’t meet deadlines, especially because the recovery period is indefinite, Morena says “you’ll need a report from a clinical psychologist [or a therapist] which [you’ll give to] your employer to protect you”. If these steps fail, he says you can log a complaint with the labour court.
Considering the limitations of accessing free or affordable mental health institutions, Morena says there are temporary methods to alleviate tension while at home, such as pacing themselves and using relaxation techniques (breathing exercises, meditating or exercise). But he says if the situation is severe then you should consult a professional. Additionally, Ntuli also suggests listening to podcasts, finding hobbies that will help you connect with the world, such as video calls with peers.
As challenging as adapting to continuously changing dynamics while fulfilling your work responsibilities may be, your mental health should remain a priority and help is always there.