Safeguarding Mental Health in the Workplace

Employees with high levels of mental wellbeing are happier and more productive.

Work can have a significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing. While having a job can provide one with a sense of identity and bolster one’s self-esteem and status, working in a negative environment can have the opposite effect.

Common work-related challenges include long hours, short staffing, an ever-increasing workload, a toxic workplace that fosters bullying and harassment, poor communication from management and a lack of training.

In addition, the pandemic has led to major shifts in work routines. Many employees learnt to adapt to working remotely, only to have to re-adjust to commuting and working onsite again. This has left many feeling tense, unhappy and worried about the future.

Dealing with Mental Health Issues

The IMH Mental Health Helpline received 50% more callers in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, with a peak seen in April 2020 which coincided with the start of the Circuit Breaker. The proportion of community referrals to Care-in-Mind for mental health conditions increased from 38% in April 2019-March 2020 to 40% in April 2020-March 2021.

There are subtle signs that manifest when a person is dealing with mental illness in the workplace. They are more likely to miss work, may lack focus and often have strained interpersonal relationships with co-workers. Many of them will also choose to keep silent about their condition for fear of being labelled weak or incompetent and this stands in the way of seeking help.

Managers can look out for signs of stress, fatigue, or depression and do their part to help employees safeguard their mental wellness through hosting programmes on mental wellness. Yet, it is important not to jump to conclusions as there could be other factors at play.

Consider other factors

There may be bad days at work from time to time. You may have difficulty focusing, feel overly stressed, irritable, unappreciated, or lack the energy and motivation. However, if this is how you feel day after day, it can be a red flag that something is seriously wrong. Many mental health problems can creep up on you slowly. You may get so used to feeling frazzled and downbeat at work that it starts to feel “normal”.

Other symptoms may include changes in one’s appetite, sleeping patterns, mood swings, loss of interest in activities, fear or nervousness, increased sensitivity, unusual behaviour and unexplained aches and pains.

Developing mutually supportive relationships with co-workers, collaborating as a team and having fun together can help ease stress and bolster the mood at work. Setting manageable goals can help break down big tasks into smaller ones so the work doesn’t feel so daunting. Employees can also take up meditation, deep breathing, tai-chi or some other rhythmic exercise to strengthen their ability to moderate their emotions.

Benefits of exercise

Regular exercise has been shown to be effective in helping to ease conditions such as depression, making it a vital tool for people seeking to better manage their mental health. After all, exercise is a natural mood booster. The endorphins generated during a workout can make one feel great.

While research shows that a combination of exercises including jogging, stretching, endurance and resistance training can be ideal for mental wellness, heading out for a brisk walk or going for a swim can be just as beneficial.

Furthermore, the brain needs a steady flow of oxygen to function optimally. Exercise causes oxygen levels to rise as your heart rate increases and your blood starts pumping. This boosts the overall performance of your brain, leading to better concentration, clearer thinking and improved memory.

Exercise has the added benefit of regulating your circadian rhythm and helping you maintain a regular sleep schedule. By elevating your body temperature, you are also primed for relaxation and a restful sleep. Exercise increases the amount of time you spend in deep sleep which benefits the immune system and cardiovascular functioning and helps to control stress and upkeep your mental wellness.

Remember, many of us are understandably reticent when it comes to talking to others about our mental health. However, there are many ways that we can do this albeit anonymously. Sometimes, just talking about it can really help lighten the load!