Managing mental health during COVID-19

  • By Nikky LaBranche MAusIMM(CP), Research Manager – Occupational Health & Safety, Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland

On 7 April 2020 AusIMM hosted a COVID-19 webinar entitled Resources Sector Update: an OHS Perspective. Mental health was mentioned numerous times throughout the webinar with a consensus that the industry needs to increase their focus on managing mental health in the current climate.

There have been dramatic changes to many aspects of our lives. For most, our work and social situations have changed changed drastically, both of which has caused a collective anxiety across the world. There is anxiety about the economy, about job losses, about getting the virus, potentially losing loved ones, and the loss of human connection.

With this level of collective anxiety, managing mental health is critical. Especially for those who are now working from home, there are several things we can proactively do to manage our mental health including creating a structured routine, addressing issues early, maintaining our social connections and having mental health conversations. These were discussed in more depth in the webinar and this article includes links to the resources mentioned.

Create a structured daily routine for remote work

If you are now working remotely, it is important to purposefully create a structured daily routine for yourself and your household that includes regular exercise. Incorporate healthy habits into your routine to give a sense of normality and help maintain your mental health. Some of this may be trial and error to find out what works for you. For example, I realised early on that I was only getting about 2000 steps a day around the house, so now I make sure that I go for a walk or jog each day to take advantage of the opportunity we are given to go outside for exercise.

Wake up at a regular time, get dressed for the day, or at least have a shower and make sure that your day pajamas are different than your night pajamas. Eat well balanced meals, try to avoid junk food and be mindful of your alcohol consumption during this time. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep and try to go to bed and wake up at consistent times.

Address issues early

If you see issues starting to emerge for yourself, there are several free online resources available that you can use personally. The Black Dog Institute has a program called myCompass that is designed to address mild to-moderate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression through personalised treatments delivered entirely online. It’s also appropriate for people who simply want to build good mental health.

Another good resource is moodgym, which is free for all Australians, thanks to funding provided by the Commonwealth Department of Health. Moodgym is an online self-help program designed to help users prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. It is like an interactive, online self-help book that teaches skills based on cognitive behaviour therapy.

Maintain social connections

Your social life doesn’t have to be completely on hold during this time. While the terms social distancing and social isolation has been used, it’s really about physical distancing. The goal should be physical distancing, but with social connections.

Use the virtual world to connect with friends, relatives and colleagues. It may take more effort, but can provide important social connection. Set up an online coffee catchup with a co-worker or schedule drinks after work with friends via Skype or Zoom to stay in touch. Being able to see the other person adds depth to the interaction, so choose video over an audio-only call when possible.

Mental health conversations

When you communicate with your friends and colleagues, check in on their wellbeing and mental health. This doesn’t have to be formal. Ask them how they are going. Listen to what they have to say and ask them if there is anything that you can do to help. Also be mindful that in the current circumstances there are limits on what you can do. Also ask them what’s going well for them to give some focus to the positive in the situation.

If you are concerned for yourself, a friend or colleague and need support or want more information on how to start a mental health conversation, R U OK? and Black Dog Institute have some excellent resources on their websites. Immediate support is available 24 hours a day from Beyond Blue, Mates in Mining and the Lifeline crisis support and suicide prevention service.

I hope you have found these resources and advice useful. Now more than ever we need to look after ourselves and our community.

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