The next pandemic crisis we need to fight is in our heads

Melissa Johnson, Digital Engagement Manager from DWP Digital talks about why we need to make wellbeing and mental health awareness a natural part of our everyday practice.

Conversations surrounding mental wellbeing with friends, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak, usually have all started in the same way, “how are you coping at the moment?”, followed by a stiff upper lip response of “fine, how about you?”. And repeat. Secondly, there‘s a collective sharing of what people have been doing to improve their mental wellbeing. Tips about walking, fresh air, avoiding social media and getting out of bed. The list is endless.


Taking positive actions

I feel that for me to give people advice about the best ways to improve your mental wellbeing during lockdown would be wholly hypocritical. After suffering from mental health illnesses since age 12 and at various points throughout my life, obsessing over what the magic solution is. If I knew, I wouldn’t be writing this.

Everyone has mental health and everyone’s experience is their own. Everyone’s relationship with their head is personal, important and valid. What doesn’t work for some works for others and vice versa. During this time, when our heads are still trying to wrap around the changes in almost every aspect of our lives, it’s never been more obvious of the importance of paying some attention to the mental wellbeing of yourself and others, both inside and outside of work.

We have never experienced anything on this scale in our lifetime and it is important to remember that. As we have heard:

“At this moment, you’re not just working from home. You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work.”


Looking to the future and setting goals

In a way, this pandemic has sparked positive conversations that have been long overdue. I think that now is the time to start thinking to the future. What can we learn from this time and what can we put into practice to leave a long legacy of positive changes once this virus starts to eventually be forgotten?

Gone are the days where branding consists of using different coloured flags and hashtags and calling it progression. People are questioning gestures and want measured and evidence-based action. Here are some my thoughts on the goals organisations should be setting themselves when it comes to looking after their colleagues.


Diversity and inclusion

Mental health issues do not discriminate, but what needs to be recognised is the outside factors and sometimes the subconscious risks that come with being part of a group covered by protected characteristics. The leading cause of death in men under 50 is suicide. The risk of psychosis in black Caribbean groups is estimated to be nearly seven times higher than in the white population. People who identify as LGBTIQ+ are between two to three times more likely than heterosexual people to report having a mental health problem. 26% of young women aged 16-24 report having a common mental health problem in any given week.

Anyone can have a mental health problem but we must recognise and research how this can affect individuals differently. Make your diverse assets not visible, but vital.


Definition, acceptance and challenging bias

The MIND website has an extensive list of all kinds of experiences that people may have felt during lockdown and not realised it was actually a thing. This can help us to understand ourselves and others. Definitions are helpful in initial understandings but also can be seen to be counterproductive.

“My name is Melissa and I have been diagnosed in the past with depression, general anxiety disorder, body dysmorphic syndrome, eating and dissociation disorder.”

The reason I feel it’s necessary to mention this is because although this is a helpful way for people to understand a little more what’s in my head, it doesn’t define me. Which brings me onto challenging bias and culture change.

Some would see that printed definition and possibly make assumptions. I see myself as a positive person, I try to see the good in everything. I have hobbies, an excitement for life, I am creative. I smile a lot. Most importantly, I am more than capable of doing my job.


Education, openness and discussion

The best way to learn is through real life experience and I believe that this is what we’ve been doing for all of these months. We’re living it and it’s not always been pretty. Bottling things up ultimately brings a larger explosion that can have long-term, serious complications. It’s time to normalise having these discussions with the right people and in the right setting. It’s okay to not be okay.

If there’s any comfort to be had from a global pandemic, it will hopefully be the realisation of how important it is to be honest about our heads and address the severe problems that can exist. And to check in on your colleagues, family and friends, whilst leaning on and trusting each other on a more personal level than we probably ever imagined.

If you’d like to work in an organisation where every person matters and wellbeing is a top priority, subscribe to our newsletter for the latest job opportunities at DWP Digital.

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