COVID’s Impact on Mental Health and Tips for Employers

In the midst of a global health pandemic, another crisis is unraveling: mental health. From financial hardships and social isolation to coping with loss and daily stressors, the global impact COVID is instilling in mental health is overwhelming.

To support employers with addressing mental health in the workplace, we have provided some quick tips for mental health issues.

Identifying Signs of Distress
The first line of defense for addressing mental health in the workplace is the ability to identify signs of distress. Individuals cope with stress and factors affecting mental health in different ways. The ways in which COVID has influenced an individual’s mental health may vary. For example, someone who has a family member or loved one test positive for COVID may feel differently than someone who has not endured that experience.

Some signs of distress may include:

  • Lower productivity
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Mood swings or outbursts
  • Absenteeism

 

Addressing Existing Mental Health Issues
A Canadian study examining the psychological effects of quarantine conducted during the SARS pandemic revealed that approximately 29% of participants had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 31% had symptoms of depression. The study also confirmed that the symptoms were exacerbated by direct exposure to the disease.[1] Anxiety levels have also increased due to a mix of uncertainty, fear, and isolation resulting from the pandemic. A significant rise stress and/or mental health issues can cause alcohol and substance use to resurface or worsen.

Providing Resources and Accommodating Vulnerable Populations
COVID has presented many obstacles for employers, specifically in accommodating vulnerable populations with resources and information. At-risk populations, such as elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems or underlying health issues, public-facing and essential workers, laid off, furloughed or terminated employees, individuals with disabilities or developmental conditions, and language barriers are examples of common populations that may need unique accommodations.

Some valuable resources for assisting these vulnerable populations may include:

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs are employer-sponsored programs offering access to professional resources for personal issues, such as stress, marital or familial concerns, finances, mental health, substance use, and grief. This is a simple and cost-effective solution to improve employee well-being.
  • Streamlining Transparent Communications. Employees want facts and additional resources regarding updates to evolving situations, such as public health pandemics. Ensuring you have adequate processes in place to quickly address new information and related updates regarding the situation. Streamlining prompt, transparent responses and relaying relevant information and resources to employees will go a long way. Be cognizant of any language or communication barriers, such as individuals’ whose native language is not English, those with disabilities, remote and contract workers, and other similar, applicable conditions.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements. In the instance of COVID, many businesses swiftly transitioned to remote work environments. As businesses re-open and resume daily operations, individuals are still facing issues that influence their work. Childcare, familial and/or marital care, and at-risk individuals are some of the obstacles employers are facing in the recovery phase of the pandemic. Offering flexible work arrangements can be a mutually beneficial solution.

 

Staying Informed
Part of reducing the stigma of mental health and stress of COVID-19 is knowing the facts. Follow local, state, and federal government and public health agencies that can provide real-time updates regarding important legislation, relief information, and resources. Communicating these changes and updating employees on business adaptations to comply with such regulations is critical to reducing the fear and uncertainty that is seemingly at the core of mental health. Connecting with local mental health providers for training, programs, and additional resources to support employees’ mental heath in the workplace can also alleviate the stigma.

Robin Paggi, Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR – a VensureHR partner, hosted a “COVID’s Impact on Mental Health and Tips for Employers” webinar on July 8, 2020. For more information or questions you may have regarding COVID’s impact on mental health in the workplace, please contact VensureHR. We value employee well-being and have HR specialists who are readily equipped to assist you with addressing any mental health issues.

 

Sources:
COVID-19: Coping with Stress
Understanding Employee Assistance Programs

[1] Mental Health Effects Since the Start of COVID-19

Creating a New Normal, Entering Post-Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic impacted every nation, every state, and every family. Part of the population was asked to stay home, and others were asked to return to the workforce earlier than expected. Regardless of your situation, you likely experienced some level of self-isolation.

Now, as states start to slowly re-open, everyone is stepping out of their homes for the first time in weeks or months. This is the beginning of a new normal. But how do we navigate this new dynamic while keeping our mental health in check? It may seem like lifting the quarantine veil will automatically eliminate any anxiety or stress, when in reality the opposite is true.

Use this checklist for yourself, family, friends, or co-workers who may need a reminder that staying mentally healthy is just as important as we enter this post-pandemic phase as it was during the quarantine.

  • Practice Gratitude. It is important to check in with yourself, friends, family, and co-workers as a reminder to be grateful for all of the goodness that is part of our every day. Acknowledge the things you can control and release the things you cannot, including questions that cannot yet be answered about the pandemic.
  • Personalize Your Boundaries. Everyone doesn’t have the same reaction about starting to re-open public gathering spaces, like restaurants, bars, pools, gyms, etc. It’s okay to not be okay jumping 100% back into “regular life.” Do what feels right for you and your family. Rejoin at your own pace.
  • Schedule Self-Care. It may seem negligible to schedule time to fixate on one’s self, but it is important to make sure self-care takes place on a regular, recurring basis. This may have been slightly easier when quarantine was in effect, but with regulations relaxing it is now more important. Be patient with your progress. Get outside. Re-read your favorite book. Take a long evening walk. All of these activities will have an amazing impact on helping create your new-normal.
  • Block the Negativity. Our minds have a way of running away with worst-case scenarios. Often these scenarios contain negative perspectives and do not actually occur. This may mean scaling back on social media activity, shutting off or limiting the daily news, and taking a break from reading headlines and stock prices. Instead, throw on your favorite movie, peruse the latest comedic additions to your favorite podcast streaming service, or start a new book. Refocus negative energy on something positive. Identifying this mindset is the first step in alleviating anxiety and stress that has built up during this time.

 

Maintaining a healthy attitude about mental health and making the decision to enter into a new normal for your day-to-day is key to managing anxiety and stress. Here are some tips for entering into this new phase of the pandemic.

Keep Your Positive Routines!
Many of us created new daily routines or schedules that helped to renew a sense of normalcy in our lives. Make sure to keep some of these new routines or schedules as you return to some of the more familiar aspects of your pre-quarantine life. Set aside time for family, meditation, meals and snacks, and exercise. If it worked in quarantine, it will likely have the same impact on your mental health post-quarantine. Conversely, if you created habits that were not so positive, now is a great time to set those aside and replace them with one of these new positive routine ideas.

Virtual Coffee Meet-Ups and Happy Hours
Let’s face it—for a good majority of us, virtual gatherings were not only a relief, but something that was missing from our lives. As busy as we all are, we sometimes forget how easy it is to connect with those who have the biggest impact on our mental and emotional happiness. This scheduled time with co-workers, friends, and family gave you a great excuse to connect regularly—so why stop now? Since we can expect physical distancing to continue, it makes sense to keep these scheduled meet-ups going. This is the best time to share self-care tips, stories from the week, or just let the organic conversation flow.

Back to Work—At Home
If you’re one of the millions of people who has gone back to work but still remains at home, you are definitely not alone. For this reason, one of the best ways to refocus on your mental health is unplugging on evenings and weekends. Working from home can substantially improve productivity as it becomes more difficult for employees to step away from their work. Taking time away from work emails, chats, and projects is essential to your mental health. Start by having a conversation with your manager about your hours, be clear about establishing a work/life balance while working from home, and shut down your computer (rather than just log off) when you are done working for the day.

Promoting Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) took the world by surprise, mental health was already a taboo topic. Discussion of mental health in the workplace has been limited because of employees’ fear of losing their jobs and the general negative stigma of mental health issues.

COVID-19 Impact on Mental Health

COVID-19 has required many people to social distance and to self-quarantine causing an uptick in mental health crises. Between isolation, fear, uncertainty, and economic hardships, many people are facing psychological distress. 45% of adults report experiencing a negative effect on their mental health resulting from COVID-19.

Children, young adults, and healthcare workers are some of the most vulnerable populations whose mental health has been impacted by COVID-19. According to a Reuters article, children are becoming anxious and thus increasing cases of depression and anxiety. Domestic violence is also on the rise, as well as healthcare workers experiencing pain, anxiety, grief, irritability, insomnia, and other mental health issues stemming from the effects of COVID-19.

According to an NPR article, a mental health crisis is also on the brink resulting from “despair,” meaning that deaths resulting from substance use or suicide could increase by 75,000 due to COVID-19. It is imperative for employers to ensure their employees’ mental health wellness is taken care of while navigating the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Addressing Mental Health Issues

Addressing mental health can be a complex, delicate issue, especially in the workplace. Many companies possess a company handbook that outlines mental health policies, including discrimination, disability, sick and medical leaves, and other health-related regulations.

Outside of company handbooks and policies, many companies that were able to have shifted their workforce to remote environments. While some may enjoy work-from-home settings, working from home can present challenges. Some tips for maintaining a sane workplace from home include:

  • Take breaks. Whether you do some stretches, go for a quick walk, or make yourself a meal, stepping away from your computer or home work environment can help break up the monotony of your work.
  • Maintain communications. Social distancing can take a toll on relationships and mental health. Staying connected via tele- and videoconferencing channels are important to maintaining healthy communications with those you love, as well as your team or department at work.
  • Develop a routine. Establishing a set routine and sticking to it can assist in your remote setting where you might lack structure.
  • Incorporate physical wellness activities. During your lunch break or rest breaks, taking a short stroll through the neighborhood, park, or simply meditate can offer physical and mental wellness benefits.

 

Best Practices for Mental Health in the Workplace

One way businesses can address mental health in the workplace is through the development of company wellness and health assistance programs. Not only does employee health assistance programs benefit employees, it also benefits employers by:

  • Improving employee retention and job satisfaction
  • Increasing productivity and improved customer service
  • Reducing employee-related risks and potential liabilities
  • Reducing total medical costs
  • Lowering absenteeism
  • Enhancing company reputation

 

Taking a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace typically sees a successful support system for employees. There are four components to developing an effective mental health approach, which includes:

  • Building a positive company culture
  • Encouraging employees to communicate with managers for assistance
  • Promoting open communications through leadership, sharing personal experiences, and offering stories of success
  • Providing leadership training and resources to better assist them in starting conversations and guiding employees seeking help.

 

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is the optimal time to revisit and revise your company policies regarding mental health, explore and incorporate new mental health and wellness programs, and ensure your company has access to available resources, training, and education regarding mental health. If you need assistance reviewing your employee handbook or would like to see available mental health coverage options to add to your employee health benefits plans, please contact VensureHR. We know employees play an integral role to a company’s day-to-day functions and our benefits team can ensure you have employee benefits customized to your individual company’s and employees’ needs.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or go to https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Pledge-to-Be-StigmaFree/StigmaFree-Company/Resources for additional resources.

 

 

Sources

How to Maintain Your Mental Health While Working from Home

How to Get Free Mental Health Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic