Mental health in times of uncertainty

09.10.2020, Germany, Bertelsmann/RTL Group

Backstage talks with Bertelsmann Company Doctor Sebastian Köhne about mental health, the importance of maintaining social interaction – and what to do if someone you know seems to be struggling with their mental health.

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The World Health Organisation has designated 10 October World Mental Health Day. As our daily lives have changed so much as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, good health is more important than ever, including mental health. Backstage spoke with Sebastian Köhne, Senior Company Doctor at Bertelsmann since 2005. He has been a doctor for over 25 years and is a specialist in general and occupational medicine. He gives his professional insights and recommendations on how to deal with mental health.

Dr. Sebastian Köhne © Steffen Krinke

The impact of mental health and the importance of balance
“Mental health is closely linked with physical health, which means that mental illness can manifest itself through physical discomfort, while physical ailments can also impact mental health,” says Dr Köhne. “Mental illness, such as depression, can initially manifest itself in a purely physical way, such as stomach-aches, backaches or headaches, where the person can’t find the cause behind the physical pain at first. At the same time, physical illnesses which severely impact quality of life can lead to depression.” Having undercome a physical illness, such as Covid-19, can also lead to several mental problems afterwards. The feelings of fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, according to World Health Organisation.

To maintain your mental health, it is essential to find balance, says Dr Köhne.

“It is enormously important on the one hand to be challenged, in other words to be active and stimulated professionally and personally, and on the other hand to have sufficient time for recovery and relaxation.”

Then the coronavirus pandemic struck
In 2020 we are facing a new reality in our daily lives. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic followed by the related countermeasures, many people have spent even more time online to keep up with friends through social media or constantly following the news. Dr Köhne explains that constant overstimulation can lead people feeling overwhelmed, and to mental illness. To prevent it, he recommends: “In today’s digital world, we should keep creating breathing space for ourselves where we are not online, but have the opportunity to take time for ourselves and for real-life contacts.”

The current situation can be challenging. Feelings of uncertainty, fear, and worry, can cause constant stress, says Dr Köhne: “It is important to keep taking countermeasures to prevent this constant stress from making us ill. This can be achieved, for example, by regular exercise in the fresh air, or if necessary, at home, as well as through social contact, even if this is only possible via telephone or video calls.” Social interaction remains important even when working from home and maintaining social distancing, says Dr Köhne:

“The most important thing, if you suspect someone you know is experiencing mental health problems, is to approach the person in confidence and offer them help,” says Dr Köhne. “Especially in our ephemeral and superficial modern lifestyle, it is crucial to take plenty of time for this kind of conversation. It’s more important to listen than to shower the person concerned with well-meant advice. Afterwards, you should consider together what the next steps for a solution might be, or which professionals should be consulted.”

“Even in these uncertain times, try not to lose the sight of the positives,” concludes Dr Köhne. “Stay in touch with relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and actively seek help if you feel at a loss.”

Backstage would like to thank Dr Köhne for taking the time to discuss this important, but often overlooked issue. If you are struggling with your mental health, do not keep it to yourself. To learn more about what kind of help or social counselling your company can offer, reach out to your closest manager or HR Department.

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