Confronting pre-COVID mental health demons
The hidden personal demons faced by people prior to the COVID-19 pandemic must be confronted as Australia begins to socially reconnect, according to a JCU researcher.
James Cook University PhD candidate and TV psychologist Sandy Rea said the isolation and social disconnection experienced by many people during the pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health conditions that have not been addressed previously.
“One of things that’s not talked about enough is the pre-COVID environment,” Ms Rea said.
“For instance, a lot of people suffered from workplace bullying, harassment and interpersonal relationships. So, when COVID came in, it was rather lovely for them to have time away at home.
“I know of people who are now experiencing anxiety returning to work because they have to confront the unpleasant workplace environment that existed pre-COVID.”
Ms Rea said while people often masked their anxiety in the workplace by having a regular daily routine, the disruption of COVID and social isolation experienced by many, including children, had brought mental health into the national conversation.
“For young children, there will certainly be an element of what we call separation anxiety,” she said.
“There’s been recent news about ‘expressionless babies’ who have missed vital cues from non-verbal behaviour as a result of mask wearing.
“A recent study has pointed to children between 15 and 18-years-old missing out on social interaction and not knowing if their friends will accept them upon returning to school, which is known as FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out.”
Ms Rea said the advantages of technology like video conferencing during the pandemic has also led to workplaces reconsidering how they structure the working week.
“There’s a hybrid model that’s emerging, certainly within work, that people want to have more of a choice of say, two days at home and three days of work,” she said.
“So, the question becomes what’s the best way for an organisation to manage their staff. Importantly, when people were staying at home, worldwide, there was an increase in things like depression, anxiety and gambling in states that had longer quarantine, such as Victoria.
“Workplace managers need to ask themselves how they best look after their employees.”
However, Ms Rea cautioned about workplaces becoming too over-reliant on technology.
“What’s emerging out of the research is a depersonalisation of relationships, so the more we are leaning into technology, the more we’re not engaging in relationships,” she said.
“We’re actually doing ourselves a disservice by becoming isolated as a result.
“Overarchingly, there’s now been a recognition of mental health and what that looks like.
“We’re now finally, normalising mental health as a valid discussion point.
“It’s a very good outcome as a result of the pandemic that we are now having these open discussions.”
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