All over the world, businesses and people are challenged by the massive impact of COVID-19, with many out of work, struggling financially, trying to manage families, maintain physical health, and more. It’s essential to not forget about mental health, though – September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, making it a critical moment in history to think about ways to help employees during a period of fear, isolation and social distancing.
As noted in a recent report from U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), anxiety and depression levels have increased significantly during April and June of 2020 compared to the same period last year. Clearly, many are engaged in an inner battle while dealing with financial, family and other heightened stressors.
Delving further into the CDC report, note these key details related to mental health issues during the current pandemic:
- 20% of study participants are suffering from mental or behavioral health problems
- 25% have increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19
- 10% have seriously considered suicide during the past month
Other respected medical publications agree about the increased likelihood of mental illness and suicide. The Lancet is reporting about the adverse effects on the public’s mental health, due mainly to fear, sense of isolation and physical distancing. According to the study’s author, “the likely adverse effects of the pandemic on people with mental illness, and on population mental health in general, might be exacerbated by fear, self-isolation, and physical distancing.”
What Can Employers Do?
While mental health is not usually at the top of the list of employer concerns, this information should provide a wake-up call for employers to understand the importance of protecting and supporting their employees’ mental health.
A recently released white paper, Social Distancing: The Importance of Staying Connected, provides several ways to help keep employees connected:
- Present practical information—Being left in ignorance is worse than knowing the truth, however difficult it might be. It’s up to management to provide timely, clear information about policies and changes related to the ongoing pandemic.
- Use chat technologies—Chat tools can be very effective in communicating during the workday – it can be used to discuss work projects, brainstorm for the future and generally to stay connected as a work team.
- Make connection more real with video conferencing—Video meetings are even more valuable, because they are the most similar to face-to-face meetings, providing the ability to see others’ expressions and faces.
- Peer support—It’s more important than ever to provide peer support during this time of stress and anxiety, even if it requires technology to make it happen.
- We are social animals—there’s a social aspect to work, so consider support networks with video conferences during lunch, coffee breaks or even Friday happy hour, so employees can chat, laugh or have conversations they would typically have during or after their workday.
- Encourage employees to speak up—Take time to have open conversations with your employees and give them opportunities to share if they feel isolated, depressed or overwhelmed.
While it is true you may need to increase the mental health spend on your employees, it is clear that the additional funds will be well spent. A study by The World Economic Forum shows a fourfold return on each $1 investment in treatment for depression and anxiety because it leads to improved health and increased productivity.
“We know that treatment of depression and anxiety makes good sense for health and wellbeing; this new study confirms that it makes sound economic sense too,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO.
Providing support for your employees’ mental health is good for business. Mental health problems are a direct cause of lost productivity, higher sick-day counts and employee turnover. Additionally, poor mental health can contribute to higher numbers of injuries and accidents in heavy industries due to a lack of sleep and physical exhaustion.
For more resources to help workers during the pandemic, visit Mental Health America. If you or an employee needs immediate help, call 911 or a local hospital. A 24-hour crisis center is available at 800-273-8255. It’s never too late to take the steps necessary to prepare, raise awareness and provide a positive working environment that supports mental health.
Richard Parke, SVP of Supplier Services at Avetta, a global leader in supply chain risk management tools, oversees registration, onboarding, compliance, customer support, and supplier retention. He and his team also develop and deliver new product and service offerings designed to create enhanced value. Parke holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Regis University in Denver, Colorado.