[Column] Grace Kamau, Gulraj Grewal: Mental Health: Beyond the Investments – Work from Home or live at work?
30-10-2020 07:08:00 | by: Bob Koigi | hits: 8366 | Tags:

While the country is starting to reopen, many organizations are choosing to continue imposing a work from home policy.

As innately social animals, the increased isolation over the last few months has undoubtedly had an impact on mental health. Indeed, data from Kenya’s mental health task force revealed earlier this year that 25% of outpatients and 40% of in-hospital patients suffer from mental health issues such as depression. But the real question is, how many people are unmuting their mics while on Zoom to say “I’m fine thanks, nothing from my side,” while silently suffering? 

Research conducted in Kenya, Nigeria and India on 31 August – 09 September 2020, now offers a glimpse into the reasons behind these staggering mental health figures. According to Busara’s data, regardless of culture, working from home has had mental health impacts on young professionals and the majority are desperately seeking routine and the opportunity to connect.

Most individuals felt tired, lonely and were struggling with the lack of clear boundaries between work and home.

nline platforms such as social media that were supposed to create a sense of connection have instead led to feelings of inadequacy, stress and isolation. Slack and Zoom fatigue is building, adding steps to what would have been a five- minute water-cooler conversation. This is compounded by the added stress of juggling house management and the inability to “switch off” from work. 

Indeed, the research revealed that the challenges of working from home were more heightened for female respondents, who were disproportionately responsible for household and childcare responsibilities despite having their spouses at home. The struggle to balance home and career responsibilities often led to women working longer hours and reporting feeling burnt out and overwhelmed.

Women also reported feeling overwhelmed by social media and tended to draw comparisons between themselves and people on their feed, often leading to feelings of inadequacy. Men however were more likely to feel more connected to others through social media and reported feeling more connected to their friends.

Despite this disparity, half of the sample admitted to taking a self-imposed break from social media during the COVID-19 period as they felt they were consuming too much negative news, especially around the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd.

In these times of hypervigilance, the research highlights that building resilience involves understanding how systems are failing individuals. In order to develop effective coping strategies, simple changes can be made.

This includes putting your phone down when you feel it begin to trigger anxiety and taking a walk to unplug. Simplifying your exercise routine can also release the amount of tension you store in your body and creating strong supporting networks will help relieve feelings of isolation. 

From an organizational perspective, the data further underscores the need to continuously affirm employees. Reminding them that their work has value gives a sense of purpose and direction that brings along some clarity, cutting through the clutter of thoughts that could invade their minds at any given moment. 

While these insights will not cure mental health disorders such as depression, they provide an understanding of what is causing stress and anxiety for many. 

Mental Health Awareness Day, which was marked on 10th October 2020, called for increased investment into mental health. With economic, psychological and physical pressures facing young professionals across the globe, it would be remiss for the medical community to not heed the call.

Grace Kamau is a research associate at Busara while Gulraj Grewal is a senior qualitative analyst at Busara