Are we all Psychologically Safe coming out of COVID

by Dr. Robbie Lloyd

Being able to relax and “be yourself” in the company of others, whether at work or in family or social groups, is a key part of good mental health and wellbeing. COVID has hopefully made us all value this need for “psychological safety” with one another.

But sadly, over the past decade our society has been split by politically driven black & white arguments over “climate wars” (on the need for climate action, or not), “culture wars” (for racial, cultural and gender equity), and “vax wars” for public health strategies to protect us from the rapidly evolving virus and the pandemic it is causing. Melbourne’s recent street protests are a strong case in point.

Once COVID has begun to ease into a more manageable place in our community, we will all be faced with the ongoing need to find psychological safety, around how to live with the ongoing need for testing, contact tracing, vaccinations and quarantines when new outbreaks occur. These are all scientific ways to stay informed and be able to protect the whole community. But some are “non-believers,” and they have had to learn to accept the science and act within the law. Except those who choose to keep behaving badly and intimidating others who don’t follow their beliefs.

Psychological Safety depends on the same three generic principles that good public health and environmental protection do: Understand the issues; Measure their impact; and Improve how we handle them. The only way we can manage that is with common agreement to accept the science and work for the common good. So as we all hope to stop thinking about COVID, I hope we can start thinking about our Current & Future Climate in this way:

Make – It an implicit priority to allow public debate and respectful difference of opinion;

Facilitate – Everyone speaking up with evidence to back their ideas, not just biased opinion; 

Establish – Norms for how failure is handled, so that it’s OK to have to admit when we are wrong and be able to recover and go on without shame;

Create – Space for new ideas (even wild ones) that can add to all of our thinking;

Embrace – Productive conflict so it becomes healthy way to vent and to share frustrations without victimizing anyone with a different point of view. 

That’s psychologically safe behaviour, from which all can benefit.