Mental health has never had more attention than in the years since the first wave of lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anxiety, isolation, pandemic fatigue, grief, insomnia, disconnection, Zoom fatigue, depression, trauma, and substance abuse are all experiences that have been widely shared and discussed — as it seemed everyone was struggling with some aspect of their mental health. Colleagues noticed and did what they could to support each other, even as virtually everyone had to adopt a new way of working. For many, this was a sudden shift to working at home — for others, it was navigating the ever-changing world of restrictions around how to work safely as the science, policy, and safety communities struggled to keep up with the latest information and knowledge. 

Given that Threads of Life is a safety-minded organization focused on peer and family support, mental health has always been a priority for our staff. Active and compassionate listening are not just skills we teach Volunteer Family Guides, but we also aim to use these skills in all areas of our lives, including our jobs. Work itself didn’t change much around here, as almost all of our staff already worked from home with a full home office setup, but our staff did still have home school, family support, and varying degrees of isolation to contend with. We had open conversations with colleagues and managers and did the best we could to support each other — with a compassionate ear or helping with a project. We did more on Zoom, in order to continue to provide support services to our families affected by workplace tragedy, but the rest of our work was done by email and phone, as it’s always been.

The COVID pandemic was the great equalizer in mental health. Individually, folks struggled to varying degrees, but whether it was you or someone you love, everyone had someone who struggled a lot. Parents and school-age children, widowed, single, partnered, and multi-generational family homes alike. The stressors varied, but everyone had new challenges to navigate with varying access to support. Discussions seemed to open more around these challenges, and it seemed to open the door more widely for talk of the things that make life hard–and what the best support looks like for each of us right now.

Work-related tragedies take a toll not only on the worker, but on family, friends, community, and on the workplace. Those ripples extend to the workplaces of family and friends. Family members struggling in the aftermath of a tragedy may find their job performance affected, and employees in a workplace where a tragedy has occurred will face their own challenges. It’s impossible to separate the individual from the worker – we carry our personal problems with us to work and our work challenges home to our families. 

So, now that the door on mental health is open, let’s keep it that way. We know that life going forward will be a different version of normal. Let’s make it one where mental health conversations become more open, supportive, and less stigmatized. We spend so much of our adult lives at work that the workplace has to be a significant player in shifting the narrative around mental and emotional health. We’re social creatures and driven to connect and contribute. Let’s make that the weave that draws us together in our work–along with a heightened awareness of the personal challenges we all face.

To learn more about World Mental Health Day, check out the annual World Health Organization Campaign, and help keep mental health in the conversation. For information and resources to help understand and address mental health in the workplace, visit the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Sarah Wheelan