Since the start of COVID-19, our world has been unequivocally changed. Routines were turned upside down both in the personal and professional spheres. While incredibly difficult to navigate, our collective resilience as individuals and a culture pulled us through the first months and has carried us to the present. However, psychologically speaking, the toll of maintaining this new normal has crept its way into the everyday lives of just about all of us.
Psychologically speaking, coping with a known stressor which has a distinct start and end is much easier than one with an unknown course and duration. That’s where we find ourselves right now – one year into a “new normal” in which we have to find ways to cope daily with an unknown end in sight (despite starting to be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel).
In order to maintain resilience, it is essential that we as individuals, organizations, and communities adopt new ways of coping, of being, and of supporting one another. There have been countless examples of extreme creativity and ingenuity in adjusting to the new normal of what it means to “do business.” K-12 schools, colleges, and businesses have found creative means to continue providing core services to their consumers. Teachers have found ways to creatively engage students in their course instruction. Businesses have found ways to work remote by hosting workshops, and even conferences with thousands of virtual attendees. However, while the core services of these organizations have remained intact, the many auxiliary supports that accompany those institutions have been lost. For example, student support services in schools and colleges have lagged as a priority, whether that be academic advising, clubs/organizations, or mental health support services. In the corporate world, easy access to HR, EAP services, and professional development activities have evaporated in the pivot to a virtual world. The reality is, these services are essential to our mental health and well-being, and their importance is heightened in times of acute stress (i.e. a world-wide pandemic).
Looking Beyond Core Business to Support Mental Health & Well-being
With this acknowledgement, it is now time for institutions to turn their attention to both delivering on their core mission as education institutions and/or businesses in a virtual world, and also providing all the support services that accompany those missions in this new reality. If we can effectively run entire school systems and multinational corporations virtually, why can’t we find ways to provide the support services that accompany them as well?
Leaning into digital technology can be a unique way to bridge this gap. In my current work at Grit Digital Health, we strive to bridge this gap to engage students, employees, and community members with online evidence-based support services delivered digitally. By identifying gaps in support services and co-designing with end users- whether it be students or employees – we are finding creative solutions to these pressing challenges. A few examples: Responder Strong – a digital mental health and well-being tool for Emergency Responders who are on the front lines of COVID-19 that we developed in partnership with a national non-profit foundation, Nod – an app to combat the issue of loneliness on campus developed in partnership with Hopelab – a non profit innovation lab, and YOU at College – a digital mental health and well-being support to college students that has seen over a 150% increase in utilization since the start of COVID.
There are countless teams working to build solutions for the challenge at hand, now it’s time for leaders and organizations to recognize the importance of these services and offer these supports to their consumers and communities. Our digital world is here, and here to stay, even after COVID. And the reality is, the impacts of mental health and well-being on our population is far from over. Embracing this new mindset has the direct benefit of connecting our students, employees, peers, friends, and family with the support they need to not only learn in the classroom or excel in the workplace, but cope effectively in our new world, with countless new stressors, and no known end in sight. We have the choice to stay the course, or make a change for the better – I’m pulling for the latter.