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Tips to protect your mental health: Prioritize wellness in the workplace

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Tips to protect your mental health: Prioritize wellness in the workplace

Work or being employed is good for our mental health. It not only provides income and status in society, it expands our social life, helps us feel productive and also motivates us to achieve bigger things in life. However, a negative work environment and stressors related to the job have an impact on our physical and mental health. It is important that employers support the mental health of all employees recognizing their unique needs and challenges, and employees prioritize their mental health and seek support at work.

Mental health problems are common in workplaces with some sectors seeing higher rates than others. Depression, burnout, anxiety disorders, alcohol dependence and suicide are some of the problems associated with exposure to stressors at work. When workers experience mental health problems, it has impact not only on the affected individuals and their families, but also on co-workers and morale of workforce as well.

Some employees experience mental health problems differently due to race, gender, job type, immigration status and other factors. Many new immigrants and refugees work in physically demanding jobs, may be assigned fewer hours than others and could also have higher qualifications than the job. Often, immigrant workers do not report their workplace problems, injuries or experiences of discrimination due to fear of being fired and not having an income. Language barriers and not having social support networks in a new country can be a challenge in seeking treatment or care.

When COVID-19 hit our country, those employed in nursing homes, service industries, small businesses, women, migrant farm workers and new immigrants experienced a mental health crisis due to job losses, poor working conditions and managing multiple demands at work and at home. If finding another job is not an option, workers can always try to improve the situation and protect their own mental health.

Here are some tips to protect your mental health at work:

1. Understand your role, job description and expectations clearly in any job you take as it helps you to know where you fit in and what is expected of you.
2. Read the employee handbook, policies and benefits that are provided carefully to seek support and advocate for your rights when a need arises.
3. Identify problems early enough and ask for help with issues such as bullying, sexual or psychological harassment by bringing it to the supervisor’s attention or the union representative. Long-term exposure to a toxic atmosphere affects mental health.
4. Communicate with your managers and peers periodically and handle any negative feedback effectively and provide any comments in a professional manner and not as a personal attack.
5. Utilize your vacation and sick days and use your mental health day (if you have one in your employee benefits plan). This can help you to relax, rejuvenate and better prepare you to handle issues at work with a relaxed approach.
6. Seek mentors at your workplace to get support and guidance. If you are new to the country and the work culture and job roles are different, it is helpful to have someone to talk to – if you are working remotely during this pandemic, schedule virtual conversations when possible.
7. Access any additional training opportunities to help you succeed with co-workers and supervisors on your team. Language training, communication skills, self advocacy training and conflict resolution skills are helpful in any kind of workplace environment.
8. Take work breaks to boost your energy and also work performance (especially when you are working from home). It can be relaxing and a distraction from the challenges of work activity and also prevent burnout.
9. Participate in wellness initiatives at work and expand your awareness and knowledge about mental health. This can help you to look for signs of distress in yourself and others, and also what steps to take. Early professional support and treatment can reduce risks for mental illness.
10. Support your physical health by getting good sleep, eating healthy and engaging in physical activity. This has positive effects on your overall mental health and energy levels.

Employers who recognize work-related influences on the mental health of employees and commit to improve psycho-social conditions, support work-life balance and offer mental health support will be rewarded with increase in employees’ job performance and loyalty to the workplace. Employees who have job satisfaction, good relationships with peers and know how to get help can increase their overall happiness levels in life. The pandemic is posing additional challenges to work life with remote work options and new health and safety protocols. Effective engagement is going to be vital for employers and the employees to ensure a positive and healthy work environment.

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