Working from home and mental health

Karen Bleasby, Mental Health First Aider and Finance Officer

The mental health implications of the current times need to be considered by all employers. Thankfully, in the last couple of years, the subject of mental health in the workplace has been growing in importance; it is no longer a taboo subject and now, more than ever, it is vital. Employers need to increase awareness of what help they can offer employees to cope with the stress and anxiety created by changing circumstances and uncertainty. WISE’s Mental Health First Aider and Finance Officer Karen Bleasby explains her experience and offers top tips for employees to reduce their stress levels when working from home.

“As a qualified therapeutic counsellor, I see a lot of clients with mental health issues who have no-one in their workplace to go to for support. However mental health in the workplace is just as important as physical health.

At WISE we are passionate about the team’s mental health and wellbeing; I was approached by our operations manager to train as a mental health first aider and adapt my skills from my profession as a counsellor to use in the workplace. I am the go-to person for anyone who is going through some form of mental health issue providing support and guidance to my colleagues, as well as being someone to listen and to talk to.

I aim to help develop the workplace culture of openness and empathy, helping with mental health conditions so none of the team end up having to take long-term sick leave, feel they need to leave, or lose their job. It would be nice to see every organisation have somebody trained in mental health first aid alongside physical first aiders.

My role as WISE’S mental health first Aider has always been valued by the team, but since the outbreak of the coronavirus I have seen an increase in the support needed all across the board. The two main themes being having to work from home and anxiety about the overall situation. My role has changed from just giving support and being a listening ear to helping more with tips to reduce anxiety and providing understanding why the coronavirus may be triggering mental health issues.

In this crucial time where we need to social distance ourselves and change the routines we are familiar with, mental health care is even more important. Whilst a lot of people do work remotely and are happy to do so and find it more productive, I have also found there are some people who like the day to day interaction of the office and social connection with co-workers and even the commute is time out for them.

I have seen an increase in people struggling on a day to day basis with their mental health due to working from home and I am seeing more and more people’s mental health put at risk, due to the feeling of isolation and disconnection, this then increasing anxiety and stress.

It is important for companies to let employees know they have someone to talk to whether it be another work colleague, line manager or mental health first aider, so they do not carry and hold onto the anxiety and stress. When people have nowhere or way to release stress it is then usually carried in the body and emerges as physical symptoms which have an all-round impact on the individual, so it really is good to talk.

From my experience, when I first started working remotely well over a year ago, I felt that because I was not in the office and could not be physically seen I had to stop what I was in the middle of doing to reply to emails so people knew I was at my home desk and working. I quickly learnt this was putting me under more pressure and was not doable. Iit is important to make sure our managers know you will have set hours for completing tasks and responding to emails and stick to it to help take the pressure off. This is where we need to set boundaries to work productively and happy from home.”

A few tips for working at home:

  1. Look for the positives: Such as being able to have that extra cup of coffee or tea in the morning or not having to go out in the pouring rain or windy weather as there is no commuting to the office.
  2. Establish a work zone: Setting up a dedicated workspace at home is crucial for productivity and focus. Have a workspace that you can go to for work and that you can leave or walk away from after the workday is done.
  3. Stick to a schedule/boundaries: Following a schedule is key when you’re working from home. Set clearly defined work hours and stick to routine (waking up at a regular time each day, showering etc).
  4. Practice self-care: Set aside sometime out of the each for exercise, meditation or other self-care practices. That includes leaving the house for a little walk and making time for rest and relaxation. When we are in the office, we do not sit at our desk from the time we arrive to the time we leave. Make sure you take your lunch break and finish at the correct time; this is so easy to let slide whilst at home.
  5. And remember its ok not to be ok, so pick up the phone or schedule a time to chat to someone.

Links for mental health and working at home – Coronavirus

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