Labour Views: Taking care of your mental health

May 19, 2021

May is Mental Health month in Canada, and given all that has happened in recent weeks it couldn't be more relevant. So many northerners have been affected by the recent NWT covid-19 cases and exposures as well as the flooding and evacuation of homes and communities, and we must not underestimate the toll it has taken on our collective mental health.

In our close-knit territory, even those who are not directly impacted are often connected to someone who is, and the worry we feel for our friends, families, and communities is just as real. All are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety.

This all comes as we enter our second year of pandemic life, and has piled itself on top of another state of mental health that many of us have been experiencing for some time now, but haven’t been able to put a name to: languishing.

If we think of mental health as a spectrum, with depression at one end and flourishing at the other, languishing is somewhere in the middle. It’s the feeling of being stuck in an endless rut.

While we dream of the day when we can freely travel and attend large gatherings, the lack of a tangible end to our inertia means plans are still on hold, and we continue our day-to-day in a seemingly endless period of waiting.

We are social creatures, and it is hard to spend so much time apart from each other and unnaturally reminded constantly don’t touch, stay apart. Heck, don’t even clear your throat in public. And be careful how you say things on social media, you don’t want to be judged!                                                   

When you’re languishing, you may not show the typical symptoms of mental illness, but you may notice that you’re not able to fully function in a way you’re used to. Maybe you lack motivation for simple things that you would normally do easily. You may find it harder to focus on tasks, or maintain momentum to complete a project.

The danger with languishing is that we usually don’t realise we’re experiencing it. Too often we only address mental health during a crisis, rather than checking in regularly and being proactive about mental health. Having a name for what we’re experiencing not only helps us identify it in ourselves, but also enables us to assist others who may be suffering.

The way we work is often an excellent indicator of our mental health. Take note of any changes in you or your co-workers’ performance. If procrastination, delayed responses, or absences are increasing, it might be time to check in.

While most NWT workers have returned to their places of work and we’ve been experiencing some semblance of normal again (recent events notwithstanding), the underlying pressure of the pandemic continues to wear on us. The ever-present stress of a potential outbreak and the constant vigilance toward every sniffle or cough are exhausting.

We are tired. We are weary. We are feeling the weight of our lives being perpetually on hold. One can only write so many articles about coping with covid.

But there is indeed some light at the end of the tunnel. As NWT vaccination rates gradually increase toward the herd immunity threshold, we get closer to returning to normal. We’ll just have to languish a little while longer.                                                                                     

Fortunately for all of us, as we learn more about the impacts of mental health on our general wellbeing, more supports become available. Many employers have some form of health and wellness program that offers free counselling and other mental health resources to workers and their families. Check with your supervisor or benefits provider to see what resources are available to you.

If your employer does not provide these supports, there are other free resources available to NWT residents. Contact your local health provider for more information about what is available in your region. Many of these resources are available for anyone - not just those in crisis.

It's been a confusing couple of weeks, and there has been a lot of information - and misinformation - circulating online and via social media. The evolving situation has made it especially challenging for workers trying to figure out who is allowed to work from home, who can get permission to return to work, or what type of leave is available to those ordered to isolate or evacuate.

If you have any questions about public health or emergency orders or recommendations, go directly to the source for answers, do not rely on social media.

If you have questions or concerns about how isolation requirements or the recent evacuations affect your work, reach out to your workplace supervisor, union rep, or service officer.

In Solidarity,
Todd Parsons, UNW President