Handling Covid-19 and mental health in the workplace

Friday June 19 2020

Human resource director Sylvia Mulomi

Human resource director Sylvia Mulomi recommends seeking help when faced with mental health challenges at work. PHOTO/COURTESY  

By Sylvia Mulomi

Being mentally healthy generally relates to the ability to enjoy life, cope with stress, be productive and build relationships with others. Mental health is influenced by biological, psychological, social and emotional factors.
The World Mental Health Day was first celebrated on October 10, 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation of Mental Health, a global organisation with membership in more than 150 countries.

Despite receiving a global platform 28 years ago, human resource practitioners in Uganda only started to discuss the importance of mental health awareness in the workplace five years ago. Whereas the majority of the formal sector employers in Uganda provide some form of medical benefit through which their employees may get mental health support, few employers have gone the extra mile to enlist an in-house professional or outsourced company to provide counselling support to their employees.
Fear of Covid-19
The emergence of the global coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19, has brought to the forefront mental health issues for both the employee and employers as highlighted below.

The fear of contracting Covid-19 is keeping the whole world on alert. Employers have had to show leadership in promoting Ministry of Health guidelines and ensuring safety measures are implemented within their companies. This fear continues to be real for many especially those who have no access to personal protective equipment and yet must continue working to provide essential services.
Social distancing
Social distancing, a way to keep people from interacting closely to prevent the spread of an infectious disease, is one of the Ministry of Health guidelines.

Several restrictions have been put in place to achieve social distancing including a lockdown, public transportation limitations and minimising activities that lead to crowding.
Depression, remote working
While social distancing is important to slow down and stop the spread of corona virus, spending weeks at home with limited stimulating social contact can precipitate depression and anxiety.
Remote working is a situation where an employee works mainly from home and communicates with the company by email and telephone.
Employees and employers have been thrust into adapting to new ways of working following the Covid-19 pandemic. Remote working has its benefits, including saving on commuting time, increased productivity, autonomy for the employee and limited exposure to Covid-19.

Fighting loneliness
However, employees working from home may feel lonely if staying home alone and may feel isolated from their work colleagues. Regular check-ins with co-workers, exercise, creating boundaries between work-home lives and forming a routine are some of the ways you can maintain mental health while working from home.
Job loss
The loss of livelihood has unfortunately become a reality for some as a result of Covid-19. Job loss results in financial insecurity and can become a source of anxiety, depression, self-doubt and stress.
Since Uganda’s social security system does not currently have a provision for unemployment payments claims, those who lose their jobs only have their terminal benefits to rely on.

Covid-19 stigma
Social stigma may occur when someone sees you in a negative way because you have contracted Covid-19 or because of your mental health.
Discrimination is when they treat you in a negative way. Social stigma and discrimination can make mental health issues worse and often stops people from getting the help they need. Employers need to create a safe environment for their employees and enable them to get the help they need.
Social support
Getting help and reaching out to someone you trust or speaking to a health professional when faced with the above issues is the right step to take for your mental health.
The writer is the Human Resources Director at Absa Bank Uganda