Monday Medical: Mental Health at Work

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 working from home, there might be questions about how to better communicate, interact and socialize with colleagues.

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

“One of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the discussion and de-stigmatization around mental health,” said Justin Ross, licensed clinical psychologist and director of the workplace wellness program at UCHealth. “Collective struggles provide us with an opportunity to better connect with each other, problem solve, provide support, and validate common experiences we might all be facing.”

Return to a modified work environment

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

“There’s a common saying, ‘We’re all in this together’, which I think is largely wrong. It’s more like, ‘We’re all in the same storm, but in different parts of the storm and in different parts of the storm. very different boats,” he said. “A lot of people are in trouble, some a lot more than others.”

While “self-care” is a popular phrase, Ross reminds us that having the opportunity, the means and the circumstances to practice it is not always fair. For parents, especially women who may shoulder the majority of childcare responsibilities, returning to work can be particularly shocking.

“Assessing the struggles of the past few years, especially as those struggles may persist for some, is an important starting point,” Ross said. “We can’t just go back to work and pretend everything is ‘back to normal’. We need to validate potential struggles and concerns and offer genuine support to 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’ response,” he said, adding that one goal would be to accept stress as part of the human experience. “We don’t live in silos. We all walk around with something we’re working on.

If you work from home

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

“We’ve been using a saying for a long time, ‘work from home,’ but I think it’s really more like ‘live at work,'” Ross said.

One of the biggest challenges in this process is setting and maintaining boundaries around the different roles you can take on in your life, especially if they all take place in the same home. It is essential to have a clear and distinct routine to make the transition between your work and your personal life.

“It may sound silly, but a simple practice of walking to your office, even if your office is just down the hall, can help,” he said. “Before and after your work day, take 5 to 10 minutes to walk around. This movement will psychologically help you transition from one role to another.

To attend to your needs

The pandemic has caused many people to assess 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:

• Know where you are and what you need.

• Be realistic about self-care.

• Create boundaries around your time and energy.

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

• Give yourself permission to cut things in your life that don’t serve you.

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

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be contacted at

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