Mental Health for Remote Workers in the Age of COVID
Societal change, a worldwide pandemic, social distancing, and collective stress have brought mental health to the forefront of public conversation. Let's break down how the pandemic in particular has affected our relationship to work and explore strategies we can implement in our daily lives to improve our wellness.
It’s very likely that if you aren’t struggling with mental health issues, you know someone who is. Struggles and interactions with mental health issues can be felt by everyone, either through having those battles yourself or through knowing someone who will experience them. Add the stressors of a global pandemic on top of our usual battle with wellness, it's easy to see why there's been a significant increase in mental health issues both in the US and globally.
But how has the pandemic affected our health on a daily basis? How are employers responding? Understanding how our psychological well-being has been affected is the first step to learning how to better our mental health while we continue to work remotely.
Remote Work & How It's Affected Us
Defaulting to remote work was an unexpected change, and it was and continues to be a massive challenge for many. Instead of dropping their kids off at daycare and driving to work, many parents now work from home while simultaneously taking care of their young ones. Work-life balance seems to have become a thing of the past, and it's not uncommon to see workers having problems separating the two.
A 2021 study from the American Psychological Association found that 67% of employees who work from home at least a few days a month report they sometimes or consistently have trouble getting away from work at the end of the day. In addition, 65% of people sometimes or always feel isolated or lonely due to working from home. Not being able to get away from work can cause burnout and other adverse health issues. Who knew that having an office separate from home contributed so much to our mental health?
Workers who previously adapted to working remotely before the pandemic aren’t immune to feelings of isolation and increased work-related stress. Nearly ⅔ of people working from home feel isolated or lonely periodically because of the inability to experience customary in-person get-togethers with other employees.
Kalamuna has been a fully-remote workplace for over five years. Organizational retreats, in-person conferences, and coworker visits have become few and far between. We're lucky that we're used to working remotely, which absolutely has its benefits, but it doesn't eliminate the hardship that we're collectively experiencing as a society.
When the American Psychiatric Association analyzed mental health in the workplace during the pandemic, only 28% of employees report their employer offers primary care with sufficient mental health coverage. Sufficient mental health coverage should be provided to employees for daily stressors and unknown events such as the pandemic. Almost half of employees worry about retaliation or being fired if they take time off for their mental health, indicating how much of a stigma against mental health still exists. Even seeking mental health care causes worry of retaliation or being fired in 43% of employees. Link to data from the American Psychiatric Association.
I have always been open about my mental health. I've dealt with severe depression for many years and battled social anxiety that's affected me my whole life. Without mental health support and treatment, I firmly believe I wouldn't be where I am today. While a lot of my treatment occurred while enrolled in school, I still need to keep up with my medication and counseling, which can get very expensive over time. This is where benefits and a responsible organization can help immensely.
Working at Kalamuna, we have benefits that cover many of our medication and counseling costs. We even get close to free counseling through sponsored hours at a service called Inkblot that we added in response to the pandemic affecting our mental health. Management always wants us to be honest with how our workload affects us and take a sick day when we're not feeling well physically or mentally. We have flexible work hours, so it's ok if you need to adjust your current workload to less than full-time. We even maintain a list of mental health resources, including apps, programs, and educational resources. The critical emphasis on mental wellness at Kalamuna has been a massive help for everyone here. Because of this, employees are comfortable opening up to each other and building a community together through the good and bad times.
What can you do?
If you're struggling while working remotely, there are things you can do beyond having organizational support to improve your daily wellness. It can be super helpful to have a schedule throughout the day and a set time to stop working. Once you close your laptop or shut off your monitor, make this your signal to yourself that work is done for the day.
To help with isolation and loneliness, try to stay connected with others, whether it be through video chats, phone calls, meeting up with friends, or even saying “hi” to the checkout person at the grocery store. It's also critical for your mental health to eat, sleep, and exercise enough to keep your body going. If your home office has a window, keep the drapes open as much as possible to maximize your exposure to sunlight. Don't have a window? A light therapy lamp can prove very beneficial as a replacement for natural sunlight to improve your mood and help treat seasonal affective disorder.
Workplaces that don't do enough for their employees' mental health will feel those ramifications down the line (whether that's turnover, workers falling ill, or decreased productivity and happiness). Mental health stigma is still prevalent, but as employers trend towards supplementing standard healthcare with wellness offerings, we can start bringing more attention to well-being and mental health support.
Links to Mental Health Resources
Courses to learn about mental health, mental illnesses, and how to improve your well-being.
- CAMH’s Mental Health 101 Series
- Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19 offered by UofT
- The Science of Well-Being by Yale University
Toolkits, modules, interactive courses, and guides to actively manage and improve your overall wellness.
- Well Central Interactive Courses: help yourself recover from mental health challenges
- HeretoHelp’s Wellness Modules: skills to help you work through common problems
- You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care Guide: interactive self-care flow chart
- Man Therapy: toolkit for men with info, videos, coping strategies, resources, personal stories
- myCompass: toolkit of skills and strategies to help with mood, anxiety, and stress (when registering, use an Australian postal code)
- DBSA Wellness Toolbox: tools and symptom tracker for depression and bipolar
If you're interested in reading more of our mental health series, check out our post on Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health and Illness and our post on how Mental Health Days are Good for You (And Your Organization).
Michelle Balge is a UX/UI Designer at Kalamuna and the award-winning author of "A Way Out: A Memoir of Conquering Depression and Social Anxiety." She is a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and shares her personal experience with students and professionals alike.