How to look after your mental health WFH Take II

By Penny Pryor
One in five Australians in psychological distress in June

As much of the country went into lockdown again, almost one in five Australians experienced a high or very high level of psychological distress in June 2021. Distress was higher in women, with 23 per cent experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress, compared to 17 per cent of men, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey.

Know it's not just you

As the survey highlights, with over half of the nation in lockdown and many people working from home (again), mental health issues are a real concern. If you are struggling, you most definitely are not alone.

The uncertainty surrounding the current lockdown in Greater Sydney, and to some extent Melbourne, is also a contributor to our state of distress, according to Rob Prugue, founder and director at mental health education organisation PROP, People Reaching Out to People.

"We humans, we hate uncertainty almost as much as we hate isolation and we've got both of these things mixed in one issue," he says.

"It's kind of like whenever you're working out - either it be a jog or a swim - it's the finish line that keeps you pushing your body beyond the point where you would rather stop."

"But if you don't know where the finish line is, it is easier to mentally give up and where it becomes dangerous is where you mentally and spiritually give up - when you give up on hope."

In NSW at least, we had also become quite complacent about life returning to 'normal' and the emergence of a new, more contagious strain of the virus has delivered a real shock to the system.

The ABS survey also found that feelings of distress were higher amongst young people, with 30 per cent of younger Australians (aged 18 to 34 years) experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress in June 2021.

Compounding distress for younger Australians, Prugue says, may also be the stress of realising they may never own their own home, with housing affordability deteriorating further with the recent explosion in the real estate market.

Coping strategies

It is has never been more important to reach out to colleagues, friends and family to see how they are coping. Mental health organisations, such as Beyond Blue and The Black Dog Institute, also suggest the below for looking after your mental health while working from home:

* Set up and follow a routine

* Create a specific place in your home where you work (Not your bed or your bedroom)

* Stay connected with co-workers and your manager

* Exercise and try and get outside

* Try a digital detox in the evenings

But also, and perhaps most importantly, they also say it is important to set realistic expectations and be kind to yourself. So (and I'm typing this from my bed as my daughter watches television), don't be too hard on yourself if you're unable to do all, or indeed any, of the above.

Just because we've done it before and understand the necessity of lockdowns, doesn't make them easy. And just because millions of us are going through it at the same time, doesn't mean you cannot acknowledge how difficult it is for you.

If you are struggling, reach out to your employer as soon as possible, they are required by law to, where practicably possible, reduce and eliminate psychological risks to workers in the workplace, wherever that may be.

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Register for PROP Tutorials on how to talk to people about mental health here .