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A candid exploration of “mental health” in the virtual workplace

Over the past few years, the term, “mental health” has morphed into a buzzword, being tossed about like a limp, over-used hacky sack.

There is a vast difference between what is meant by “mental health” and how is it perceived by society.

Feeling sad from time to time does not necessarily mean one is suffering from a diagnosable, quantifiable mental illness, such as Major Depressive Disorder. Similarly, many may joke about “being OCD”, meanwhile undermining the nature of the illness as well as those who live with it. It is, therefore, of utmost importance to distinguish between “mental health” as a fashionable, trendy and hackneyed buzzword and the harsh reality of being mentally unwell. 

According to a blog written by Kathy Edens, “Awareness of our own and others’ mental health is growing around the world, but sadly still hasn’t shaken the stigma and embarrassment.” Indeed, it is a sad truth that, even with the pandemic pushing the issue of mental health into the limelight, it is still labelled as an uncomfortable, disconcerting and awkward topic to address.  

Let us now consider how “mental health” is approached in the current workplace. It seemed that – overnight – workers went from shaking each other’s hands and enjoying a lunch break together to staring at the harsh light of computer screens. Interaction became isolation and communication a click; a smile a square on that screen. All too quickly, people were having to adopt novel methods of getting the job done, existing in a cyberspace workplace

In companies that function solely online – Culturelligence being one of them – it is of the utmost importance that workers have access to mental health check-in platforms and support groups. Having specific spaces delegated to colleagues checking in with – and up on – each other are indispensable tools, both for those who do and do not struggle with mental illness. Of course, these online tools cannot replace the in-person interactions for which humans were designed, but they surely are better than silent suffering. 

It is okay not to be okay; it is when our understanding and approach to mental health are hidden behind that infamous screen that we inevitably will lose connection.