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In 2019, I changed jobs three times. I was incredibly depressed and kept looking for an office job that was better than the last. My depression made it so that I couldn't get out of bed in time for my shifts. The idea of commuting seemed to take up time where I could be in bed, delaying the start of my day. I wasn't even sleeping (though that was all I wanted to do) and I didn't have the energy to make meals for breakfast or lunch.
All I wanted to do was stay in the comfort of my home, but the option of working remotely was almost unheard of at the time. There was a brief period where I was working for a start-up and could work from home; something that was novel to both me and the company. Even though I felt better working from my dinner table, the kinks of working from home hadn't been completely ironed out, and the company wanted me to be in the office.
So, in December 2019, I quit my office job altogether. I was dangerously depressed and none of the jobs I worked were able to accommodate me working remotely.
“When I think about someone with mental illness, like depression, oftentimes, depending on how severe it is, they are stuck with not feeling motivated, and not being able to get out of bed and do their hygiene," psychotherapist Simone Donaldson explained in an interview with Yahoo Canada. "I think the added pressure of society saying things like, 'Well, if you stay in bed for long, you're lazy,' or 'If you're not doing things at a certain time, then something is wrong with you.'”
A few months after my decision to leave my job, COVID-19 caused many companies to shift their employees to remote working. It amazed me how quickly accommodations were made for people to work from home, but when I had asked for a similar arrangement months earlier, I was met with a lot of pushback. What was once an unusual request had become the norm for offices around the world.
Like many others, I’ve pivoted to working remotely. I’ve attended more Zoom meetings than I can count. I’ve been able to attend events virtually that I wouldn’t have been able to, had I been working in office. I can book appointments to speak with my therapist more conveniently, since I don’t have to worry about commuting to her office. I can fill my time with things I enjoy doing, rather than pretending to be busy for hours on end.
“This idea of 'busy', has been way too glorified in our society," Donaldson said. "Working from home is one of those things that have allowed us to say, 'Maybe we could pause a little more or slow down a little more and actually take in our day.'"
Now, midway through 2021, with so many Canadians accepting the COVID-19 vaccines, the question has become, “Why should we return to the office?”
Donaldson thinks the pros of working from home far outweigh the cons.
“I think us being able to actually pace ourselves versus being on a time crunch, is actually something that's helpful for folks with mental illness," she explained. "They can structure their day, so it works better for them, versus feeling watched and pressured by their employer.”
Being able to work from home has been a lifesaver for me. I can sleep longer since there’s no commute, I can snack throughout the day when my appetite isn’t there and I can do some yoga when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Working remotely has changed the game not only for me, but for many other people with mental illnesses.
According to Donaldson, working from home can help alleviate some of the anxiety that people with mental health issues experience on a day to day basis. Working remotely takes away the stress of getting ready for work and allows people to remain in the comfort of their own home and perform their duties at their own pace. Whats more, working from home offers people the chance to go for a walk when they need to take a break.
The pandemic has exposed and transformed the way our society views both physical and mental illnesses. Prior to COVID, I've gone to work while having communicable illnesses such as strep throat or the flu, but the expectation was that you would go to work and power through whatever was ailing you.
Now it seems as though workplaces are catching up to what many of us already knew: accommodations, flexibility, and putting health first make for happier employees.
“Money is not actually what is going to allow us to be healthy and well and successful in this world. We need our mental health,” Donaldson explains. “Not that money isn't important. But if we're not well, then nothing functions and nothing's going to get done. I think we glorify things like independence, being busy, and making money in our capitalist society, but that's obviously not enough for us to be well in this world.”
The mental health and wellness of workers should be the first thing companies think about when they’re planning a return to the office. Some companies have offered surveys to employees, asking for their opinions on the work from home model. Workers should be given the option, rather than being forced to return.
For me, a hybrid model would be best for my mental health. The ability to go into the office occasionally while also having the choice to work from home would be ideal. I would finally get to meet my coworkers and put faces to the names I see on my screen on a daily basis. Instead of waiting for emails when I need a second opinion, I could roll my chair over and ask for help.
Hopefully, in a post-COVID world, employers can remember the lessons that came from these strange and unprecedented times: wellness comes first, accommodations can always be made to support workers, and having trust in the workforce is paramount to success.
After all, we’ve managed to go almost two years working from home when possible. Who says that can’t be the norm going forward?