Cloud Talk: What Our Mental Health Will Look Like Post-Pandemic
The last time we spoke about mental wellness during our Cloud Talk series was earlier this year, in April. We held a workshop, led by Megan Lam of digital health company Neurum, which focused on developing a company culture and programme that looked after the mental wellness of employees in the workplace.
At the time, countries across the region were in lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, which experts said was taking a toll on our mental health. It's now December and while many of us are slowly returning back to our daily lives, the pandemic is still far from over.
As we continue to face the fear of contracting the disease, we've also had to quickly adapt to a new normal, be it indefinitely working from home or not having a job at all. At the same time, the future seems filled with uncertainty.
A recent policy brief by the United Nations reported that the pandemic means “a long-term upsurge in the number and severity of mental health problems is likely”, and that this could lead to a major mental health crisis.
For our December 2 edition of Cloud Talk, we invited two mental wellness advocates from the Gen.T community to discuss the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on our mental health as well as how we can assess and look after our own. At the end of the session, we also did a simple breathing exercise led by one of our speakers, Bradley Dowding-Young, to help calm our senses before we embarked on the rest of our day.
Founder and principal CEO of Silentmode, Bradley Dowding-Young was motivated to start his Hong Kong-based company by his stressful experience working in a fast-paced media environment for years. Combining his knowledge of mindfulness, sonic design and breathing work, he has created products including a wearable wellness face device that helps to reduce anxiety and improve performance, health and well-being. More recently, Silentmode launched a new iOS biofeedback and breathing workout app, Breathonics.
Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin is an associate professor of psychiatry, a consultant psychiatrist, chief coordinator of the University of Malaya's Centre of Addiction Sciences and coordinator of the Nicotine Addiction Research Group. He also has a podcast, On Air With Dr Amer Siddiq, where he openly discusses mental health issues in the hope of one day ending the stigma surrounding the topic.
Here are the key takeaways from the session.
The lasting impact of the pandemic is on our mental health
The psychological impacts of an event such as the coronavirus pandemic will be seen much later than the physical impacts, said Amer. "It's only now, so many months since the beginning of the outbreak in Asia, are we starting to see the impact of Covid-19 on our mental health. It's almost like collateral damage. In the clinical practice, we're seeing people who've never had mental health issues start to become a bit despondent, a bit tired. And this could be because some of us have been working from home all this time and are really feeling the effects of social isolation."
See also: 5 Easy Breathing Techniques For Instant Calm
Rethinking the narrative around mental health
A report by the World Health Organisation stated that countries are spending less than 2 percent of their national health budgets on mental health, which raises the question if we're ready to deal with the long-term, psychological impacts of the pandemic. "Investment into mental health has been really slow in the last few years, where we're at the critical period of not being able to cope with the mental health situation during this pandemic", said Amer. He attributed this to several reasons, including a lack of understanding of mental health and the cultural stigma that still surrounds the topic in most parts of Asia.
"People don't often associate the term 'mental health' with themselves," said Dowding-Young. "It used to be characterised as a clinical condition rather than a feeling like stress or anxiety. The challenging thing is that stress can manifest in different ways, from anxiety, depression, fear, all the way up to extreme cases such as suicide.
"I think changing the narrative around mental health is really important before we do anything. I don't just mean reaching out to friends and family, but also trying to understand why our bodies react to stress the way they do."
He also added that rethinking the terminology used could also help bring more attention to the issue of mental health. "It's been very difficult to get mental health across, so we use terms like mental fitness instead. We're seeing a trend of 'working in' [as a term being used] rather than 'working out'. It's very much a branding exercise of how do we get people away from the stigma of mental health towards the mindset of performance, productivity and growth."
Assessing our own mental health
Recognising how we are feeling is not always easy, but there are some signs to look out for that will indicate how you're doing mentally, said Amer. "Changes in your sleeping patterns could be a first sign of poor mental health. Changes in behaviour as well, particularly when it comes to emotional control, where you may find yourself getting excessively angry over a small matter, for instance. Lower productivity at work could also be an indication that something might be wrong, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you have a mental health issue."
See also: The Next Normal: Life After Coronavirus
Creating an open communication channel for employees
For leaders who want to make a more conscious effort to tackle employee mental health, Dowding-Young shared that a good way to start is to create an open channel for people to speak about mental health. "One of the challenges I saw in my old career was that nobody wanted to show weakness, nobody wanted to be the person to say 'I'm struggling', because they may think that's going to affect their chances of a promotion or so on. But creating an open forum for people to discuss mental health at work helps to take away the stigma around the topic."
At the same time, he said leaders should also advocate for the cause and lead by example. "At Silentmode, we regularly do breathwork exercises in the morning as a team, we have flexible lunch hours to allow people to take naps, we give them areas where they can lay down and take naps."
"It's just taking a pragmatic approach to human nature. Let's come together as humans to help each other."
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