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Mental health support for essential workers during COVID-19 pandemic

All Australians have been affected by COVID-19 in some way; and with constant news coverage, daily changes to restrictions, you may have noticed a change in your mental health and wellbeing. Our essential workers on the frontline are seeing extra pressures on their jobs and their mental wellbeing could be compromised. We all have a part to play in keeping our doctors, nurses, frontline healthcare workers, first responders, teachers, early educators, supermarket workers and all other essential workers safe from extra mental anguish during this time.

What part can I play in helping essential workers?

Every Australian can do their bit to flatten the curve of coronavirus; it’s our personal responsibility to stay informed and adhere to the government restrictions and advice. The best ways to help stop the spread of the virus are to clean your hands frequently and thoroughly, stay home where possible and only go out for essential reasons. If you are going out to appointments, the shops or education drop offs, the most important thing you can do is show respect.

A few simple steps we can all follow:

  • Respect essential workers you come into contact with and treat them with kindness;
  • Respect each other when out in public and adhere to social distancing rules; and
  • Practice good hygiene.

Essential workers

Many essential workers have had their ‘normal’ work routine changed as a result of the pandemic; whether it’s now working from home or remaining in the workplace under strict rules and hygiene measures. For some, these sudden changes to your workday can be unsettling and require a period of adjustment, while others may embrace the change and hit the ground running. Whatever your circumstances, there are many actions you can take to protect and nurture your mental health.

Tips to help you manage your mental wellbeing as an essential worker:

  • Get back to the basics: remember to eat well, get enough sleep and try to incorporate some exercise into your day where possible.
  • If you’re working from home, structure your day in a way that works for you: be realistic about the amount of work you can achieve, keep up your break times and do something away from your work area to signify a break. The same goes for the end of the day.
  • Stay connected to your work colleagues as safely as you can - video conferencing and virtual meetings are a great way to stay connected and still feel a part of your team.
  • Try to find time in your day to switch off from technology.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, try some relaxing breathing or grounding techniques.
  • Reach out to your colleagues or your manager for support – whether it’s for help with using new technologies or if you’re struggling with a normal aspect of your role.
  • Seek help and assistance via your workplace resources (such as an Employee Assistance Program) or your GP if you feel too overwhelmed and your mental health is suffering.

Healthcare professionals and emergency workers

The pressures on our health care sector and emergency workers have been unprecedented during the pandemic. Medical professionals and first responders are at the forefront of the coronavirus and many of these occupations are at a higher risk of suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), significant depression, anxiety and sleep disorders as the work pressures, longer hours and constant nature of the work may start to take its toll. As our healthcare and emergency workers provide such a vital service to the community, it’s essential that we ensure their health is well cared for; so they can continue to care for all of us.

Tips to help you manage your mental wellbeing as a healthcare or emergency services worker:

  • Debrief and share knowledge with your colleagues as they will likely have come across the same stresses as you have during your shifts.
  • Report your struggles to your supervisor or a trusted mentor, as they may have advice on how to overcome particular issues. It’s good to do this in writing so there is a record of your struggles in the event you make a compensation claim for a mental injury.
  • On your days off try to engage in activities that ground you and remind you why you do your job. Engage in some exercise or activities that bring you a sense of calm.
  • Ensure you check in on loved ones and stay connected virtually as much as you can; you will be surrounded by coronavirus in your job so outside interactions may offer a different perspective.
  • Seek advice and help if your mental wellbeing is affected and you can’t get yourself out of an ongoing mental rut.
  • Be sure to take care of your own health including eating healthy meals. There are many new initiatives popping up with offers to “Feed frontline workers”.

Support channels for workers during COVID-19

There is information and resources you can access if you believe you or a loved one needs support during these uncertain times:

  • Safe Work Australia – Information on Covid-19 and work health and safety

  • Heads up – a resource developed by Beyond Blue for mental health and support specifically in the workplace

  • Beyond Blue – Many avenues of support during this time with lots of resources to access to assist with your mental wellbeing.

  • Lifeline Help is always just a phone call away on 13 11 14.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: April 21, 2020.

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