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How Working from Home Affects Mental Health

The routine of life has changed for many of us during these past few years. We now find ourselves in a smaller bubble: the home has become our everything. We work from home (WFH), our children attend virtual schooling, and we sometimes even find ourselves having all of our regular tasks outsourced, especially those which typically help us engage with the community (e.g., getting groceries).

These life changes have undoubtedly affected us; specifically, we are finding that so much time spent in the home has taken a toll on our mental health. Oracle conducted a global study (in over 11 countries) with results showing that 78% of the workforce feel that the pandemic has had a harmful impact on their mental health. Frequent responses included loneliness (14%), depression from a lack of socialization (25%), burnout (25%), lack of work-life balance (35%), and increased stress (38%).

Establishing routines and setting firm boundaries between work/school/personal lives has always been difficult; but now, those gray lines are even blurrier. A survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA; 5/2021) revealed that nearly two-thirds of people working from home feel isolated or lonely (at least sometimes). Even more shocking, 73% of 18 to 29-year-olds and 73% of 30 to 44-year-olds reported feeling isolated or lonely (when working from home), as compared to responses from older adults (48% of 45 to 64-year-olds). These numbers suggest the harmful impact of working from home is most evident in those with less experience in creating a healthy work-life balance. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of those working from home report difficulty getting away from work (i.e., disengaging). Among 1,000 remote workers surveyed between March 26 and April 5, 2021 more than half of employees working from home reported: negative mental health impacts such as isolation, loneliness, and “difficulty getting away from work at the end of the day.”

Since we are now spending most of our time at home, we have also lost small connections with coworkers, those regular encounters in which we can seek the support of someone having a shared experience. A survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA; 5/2021) revealed that only 56% of employees say they can speak openly about mental health. Stigma remains an issue and so many people still find themselves unable to discuss their difficulties with others. Even more concerning, more than four in 10 employees are concerned about retaliation should they seek out mental health care or take leave in order to focus on their mental health. Young workers are most concerned. The impact on minorities is also troubling as black and Hispanic employees are more concerned about retaliation (e.g., negative work-related consequences) than are whites.

It warrants mentioning that WFH is not new and not exclusively harmful; however, it has become increasingly more common since the outset of the pandemic. And working from home has led to some positive outcomes! Some have been able to spend more quality time with family members, reduce commutes, and work from more exotic/less corporate locations. But, the long-term effects of working from home remain to be seen. The numbers cited earlier in this article are surveyed results; empirical research is ongoing, but the trends appear obvious. We need to address our current mental health concerns until we are able to more effectively understand and address the harmful effects of working from home.

Therapy often functions like a workout. We take a baseline assessment of our health, establish goals, and work to develop the skills which will not only help us achieve those goals but also help us maintain the improvement! If working from home has had a harmful effect on you, Roswell Psychology is here for support.

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