The latest news about the growing number of COVID-19 cases has created more uncertainty and stress about the pandemic. Are we truly heading into a second wave? Are people suffering “COVID fatigue” and will refuse to take precautions that seemed reasonable even just a few weeks ago? What’s happening at schools, at hospitals, at long-term care facilities, at home, at my workplace? The uncertainty is wearying for all of us, and experts fear that mental health problems are forming a kind of parallel pandemic alongside COVID-19.
Our recent article discussed how to recognize and avoid burnout among over-worked IT staff during the pandemic. But with Mental Illness Awareness Week being recognized from October 4-10, 2020 – culminating with World Mental Health Day on Saturday, October 10 – it’s an appropriate time to review some of the mental health challenges that all of our teams, friends, family, and communities are facing, and what we can do to help and support them.
The blurring of lines between personal and work lives is a big contributor to stress during the pandemic, as schedules have been thrown into disarray and many homes have been converted into workspaces. You can help re-establish that division by designating a particular part of your home or apartment as an office. Aside from providing additional security and privacy, this creates a physical and psychological divide between work time and personal time. And keeping to a schedule is a simple yet effective way of separating time. If you’re on a 7:00 to 3:00 shift, be sure to log off at 3:00, and close the “office” door. The proximity and convenience of getting back on for “just one more thing” for work may seem attractive, but can create an insidious drain on energy and spirit. Many of us could be working from home for many more months – or permanently – so it’s important to set and stick to boundaries with the long term in mind.
The COVID-19 Effect
This only touches on the stress that a changed work environment has created. Prolonged isolation and concerns about our health, and that of our families, has been a constant in our lives since February/March. Financial worries have been mitigated to some extent by the government support programs put in place, but as those resources wind down, a substantial recovery process lies ahead. A number of businesses unable or unwilling to adapt to an online world have gone out of business; others have had to scale down, lay off staff, and/or incur additional costs to continue operations. And it is not without irony that this COVID article is published as many people are suffering from COVID coverage fatigue, with every news outlet and press briefing and phone-in show talking about the pandemic 24×7. All of these factors have contributed to creating a potential mental health crisis globally.
And make no mistake: the impacts are being felt already. In a sobering report released in July 2020, CAMH summarized the mental health issues they’ve seen since the lockdowns started in March, including growing stress levels, heightened senses of anxiety or depression, increased substance abuse, spikes in domestic violence, and even an increased incidence of suicides.
The Canadian government has created a microsite containing a list of tips, resources, and online/voice links to help those in need during the pandemic. The microsite – which is attached to the government’s Mental Health and Wellness resource page – has a convenient breakdown of province-specific resources as well, so Canadians can find support and information close to home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States also has an excellent, well-presented selection of resources and helpful links. Meanwhile, the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K. has published a thoughtful guide on how to recognize and manage mental health stressors as the pandemic lockdowns change. Their articles provide clear and comprehensive insights on how to get through these challenging times. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has a wide-ranging resource page with lots of helpful tips and situation-specific links and commentary, and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) also has an extensive list of self-care reference material, workplace resources, and support information. Still looking for more? Approach your workplace to enquire about potential employee assistance programs (EAPs) that may be available to support you confidentially.
ISA Cybersecurity recognizes and has reacted to the challenges that the pandemic has placed on our teams. We support our staff by accommodating time–shifting and alternative work arrangements. We’ve supplied paid mental health days, provided expanded EAP resources, and secured professional counselling resources for staff in need. We understand the disruption that has been caused in the important social aspects of work, so we’ve used our technical expertise to support efficient communication and teamwork, even with our physical offices closed.
In the community, we’re trying to do our part as well: while our major fundraising initiative for the year – an invitational golf tournament – had to be shelved due to health and safety concerns, we still felt it was imperative to provide charitable support. So, in partnership with Varonis and McAfee, we raised $1000 through a series of social distanced “mini-invitational” charity golf days with key customers in the Greater Toronto Area. ISA has matched our partners donations and contributed a total of $2000 to CMHA Ontario to help with their important work in our local community.
The entire team at ISA hopes that you and your families are staying safe and are doing your best to maintain both physical and mental health during the pandemic. We’ve come a long way, and we likely have a long way to go – but together we can make it through.
Do you have a preferred resource or insightful experience to share? Contact us to keep the conversation going.