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Monday Medical: Mental health at work

Mary Gay Broderick
Monday Medical

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on mental health. Part one looked at ways to support your own mental health, while part two focuses on supporting the mental health of your colleagues.

Now that many have returned to the workplace after two years of telecommuting, there might be questions on how to better communicate, interact and socialize with colleagues.

Are there best practices or better ways to manage our individual and collective loss and changes? How can we help each other navigate these new professional waters?



“One of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the discussion and destigmatization around mental health,” said Justin Ross, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of the Workplace Wellbeing Program at UCHealth. “Collective hardship provides an opportunity for us to better connect to one another, to solve problems, to provide support and to validate the common experiences we all might be facing.”

Returning to a changed work setting

While the pandemic has shaken up the lives and routines of many Americans, perhaps no more so than parents, health care professionals and other essential workers, Ross said.



“There’s a common saying, ‘We’re all in the same boat,’ which I think is largely misguided. It’s more like, ‘We’re all in the same storm, but in different parts of the storm and in very different boats,’” he said. “Many people are struggling, some much more than others.”

While “self care” is a popular expression, Ross reminds us that having the opportunity, means and circumstances to practice it is not always equitable. For parents, notably women who may assume the majority of the childcare responsibility, returning to the workplace may be especially jarring.

“Valuing difficulties of the past few years, especially as those hardships may continue for some, is an important starting point,” said Ross. “We can’t just get back to work and pretend that everything is ‘back to normal.’ We have to validate the potential hardships and concerns and offer genuine support for our colleagues.”

On the other hand, if you are the one struggling, it is possible to contribute at work while working through change or stress.

“It can be a ‘both/and’ answer,” he said, adding that a goal would be to accept stress as part of the human experience. “We’re not living in silos. We’re all walking around with something we’re working on.”

If you work from home

For those working from a home office, a work-life balance can be especially tricky.

“We’ve long used a saying, ‘working from home,’ but I think it’s really more like, ‘living at work,’” said Ross.

One of the biggest difficulties in this process is establishing and maintaining boundaries around the various roles you may occupy in your life, especially if they’re all occurring within the same dwelling. It’s key to have a clear and distinct routine to transition shifts between your work and personal life.

“It may sound silly, but a simple practice of commuting to your office, even if your office is just down the hallway, can help,” he said. “Before and after your workday, take five to 10 minutes to go for a walk. This movement will help you psychologically transition from one role to another.”

Meeting your needs

The pandemic has caused many people to evaluate and ask questions about priorities and what is important now and in the future. As responsibilities are juggled at work and at home, Ross offers the following advice:

• Have awareness of where you’re at and what you need.

• Be realistic about self care.

• Create boundaries around your time and energy.

• Acknowledge that saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to another thing.

• Give yourself permission to cut out things in your life not serving you.

“We most certainly can maintain a work-life balance,” he said, “but that balance is only going to be as strong as our boundaries that separate important areas of our lives.”

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at marygaybroderick@comcast.net.

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