Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19
The duty of employers under the model WHS laws apply to psychological health too. This is a stressful time for all Australians, and employers must do what they can to reduce the psychological risks to workers and others at the workplace.
What are Possible Psychosocial Hazards (Workplace Stress Factors) from COVID-19?
Psychosocial hazards arising from COVID-19 could include:
- Exposure to customer violence or aggression – for example in healthcare or supermarkets.
- Increased work demand – for example supermarket home delivery drivers.
- Isolated work – for example where workers are working from home. For general WHS information on working from home see Safe Work Australia’s Working from Home page.
- Low support – for example workers working in isolation may feel they don’t have the normal support they receive to do their jobs or where work demands have dramatically increased supervisors may not be able to offer the same level of support.
- Poor environmental conditions – for example where temporary workplaces may be hot, cold or noisy.
- Poor organisational change management – for example if businesses are restructuring to address the effects of COVID-19 but are not providing information or support to workers.
- Fatigue – for example worker’s mental and physical demands may have increased, or a change in work scheduling and working time, or environmental conditions or factors outside the workplace.
- Domestic or family violence and abuse – for example working from home might not be the safest option for all your workers. For more information about supporting workers impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse https://www.1800respect.org.au/
What Steps Can be Taken to Eliminate or Minimise Stress?
Steps you can take to eliminate or minimise workplace stress are to:
- be well informed with information from official sources, regularly communicate with workers and share relevant information as it comes to hand
- consult your workers on any risks to their psychological health and how these can be managed
- provide workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns and to find workplace information in a central place
- inform workers about their entitlements if they become unfit for work or have caring responsibilities Australia Business or Fair Work Ombudsman
- proactively support workers who you identify may be more at risk of workplace psychological injury (e.g. frontline workers or those working from home)
- refer workers to appropriate channels to support workplace mental health and wellbeing such as employee assistance programs or there are many digital mental health services that can be access online or over the phone
- For more specific tips on maintaining yours’ and your workers’ mental health go the mental health and wellbeing page go the mental health and wellbeing page
More information about work-related psychological health and safety and how to meet your duties can be found in the Safe Work Australia Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties.
A new program, Mentally Healthier Workplaces, was launched earlier in 2020 to support businesses to actively contribute to positive mental health in the ACT.
The program allows businesses to pledge to prioritise their workers’ mental health and provides access to a range of resources and support offered by Worksafe ACT.
Disclosure and Privacy
- Personal information should only be used or disclosed on a ‘need-to-know’ basis
- Only the minimum amount of personal information reasonably necessary to prevent or manage COVID-19 should be collected, used or disclosed
- Consider taking steps now to notify staff of how their personal information will be handled in responding to any potential or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace
- Ensure reasonable steps are in place to keep personal information secure, including where employees are working remotely.
For more information - Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
Visit the Following Sites for Information on Caring for Mental Health
- Head to Health – COVID-19 Support
- Beyond Blue – Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
- Healthier Work – Looking for more information on supporting workers physical and mental health
- eMHprac - A fact sheet outlining various Australian, government-funded online, telephone and app-based mental health services.
- SafeWork Australia - Industry specific fact sheets
- Covid-19 website - Specific tips on mental health and wellbeing
- Department of Health - Mental health and wellbeing support for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic
Also translated versions of the resources in Arabic, Vietnamese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Farsi, Italian and Korean.
Free Digital Mental Health Tools That Can Help
These programs can help people experiencing worry, stress, depression and anxiety, or for those who are simply looking to boost their mental health and wellbeing during this time.
myCompass is a free online self-help program developed by the Black Dog Institute. myCompass was shown to significantly improve mild to-moderate symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. The program consists of 14 modules that teach cognitive behavioural techniques and strategies to manage your mood.
Black Dog Institute's Online Clinic
The Online Clinic is a free mental health assessment tool designed for people over the age of 18 who are concerned they are developing a mental health issue, or would like to get a better understanding of their mental health. It involves answering a few short questions about how you’ve been feeling over the last two weeks.
Based on your answers, you'll receive a personalised report that can be printed off and discussed with your GP. The report will also include guidance on different tools and resources you can use to improve mental health. This is a completely confidential clinic and no personal details are required.
This Way Up
This Way Up refers to a suite of more than 10 different online brief psychology courses, for individuals experiencing a range of psychological difficulties. These programs were developed by clinicians and researchers at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and the University of New South Wales. This Way Up programs have been scientifically evaluated in over 40 clinical trials.
They have numerous self-guided and clinician supervised courses for people of all ages who are experiencing stress, anxiety and depression, as well as health anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. The therapies delivered are based on cognitive-behavioural therapy and mindfulness approaches, through a series of approximately 6 online modules. Studies have shown that 80% of people who complete a course feel significantly better, and 50% of people are no longer troubled by their concerns.
All courses are currently free during the COVID-19 crisis, until the end of April 2020.
moodgym is an interactive self-help program for people over the age of 16 developed by researchers at the Australian National University. The program is based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT), and has been shown to be effective in preventing and treating anxiety and depression. It features five interactive modules which include various self-help exercises and quizzes, and is free to use for all Australians.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions
The Centre for Clinical Interventions is a psychology service in Perth that has developed self-help ‘workbooks’ and sets of modules on different types of anxiety including health anxiety, sleep, worry, procrastination, perfectionism and numerous other topics. There are also a number of education sheets about different types of symptoms and treatment approaches which can be useful.
The MindSpot Clinic is Australia’s first free national online mental health clinic that offers psychological assessment and treatment for people experiencing stress, worry, anxiety and depression. The online assessment takes about 20-30 minutes and is available to people who are at least 18 years old, currently living in Australia and are eligible for Medicare.
When you complete the assessment, you have the option to speak to a MindSpot therapist about your mental health to make sure the report is accurate. Once this is complete, a MindSpot therapist will put together your report and suggest appropriate online courses that are guided by clinicians, plus local services where you can access help.
The Headspace App offers a free two-week trial and teaches you how to meditate and boost mindfulness with guided exercises, videos, and more. Research supports this app, with evidence indicating that it helps reduce stress, increase life satisfaction and improve focus.
Smiling Mind is a free mindfulness app developed by psychologists and educators for young people. It’s focused on daily meditation, mindfulness exercises and can help you stay calm and healthy while you’re spending more time indoors. Smiling Mind has been shown to help manage stress, resilience, anxiety and depression, and improve general health and wellbeing. The app also includes programs in a number of Aboriginal languages such as Kriol, Ngaanyatjarra and Pitjantjatjara created with help from Central Australia’s NPY Women’s Council.
Programs for Young People
BRAVE is an online program developed by a team of researchers from the University of Queensland that helps children and young people overcome anxiety. The program was developed based on 12 years of strong empirical research, and features cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques. BRAVE features 10 sessions where young people learn the skills through animations, quizzes, puzzles, and interactive games to deal with fearful or worrying situations.
Sleep Ninja is a mental health app developed by researchers at the Black Dog Institute for young people experiencing sleep problems, which has been shown to play an important role in mental health problems like anxiety and depression. The app teaches evidence-based cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) strategies specifically for sleep difficulties in a fun and interactive way, and is now undergoing a large trial to see how it impacts on a range of outcomes including mood, worry, fatigue and general health.
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