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 homework 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 we continue to navigate unchartered territory, now 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 are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or go to NAMI.org for additional resources.