The COVID-19 pandemic has tested us to the limits and turned our lives upside down – our relationships, our finances and our jobs have all been affected, exacerbating mental health problems with those reporting that they felt high levels of anxiety soaring from 21% in 2019 to over 49% (ONS). It is projected that by 2030 mental health problems (particularly depression) will be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally (WHO). So how can we support our employees and recognise when they are struggling, especially if they are working remotely? What specific mental health issues are arising from the pandemic and how can we make a difference in the workplace?
The Mental Health Refresher course has been designed to delve into the post-pandemic work environment and really understand the various consequences for different population groups and workers. As restrictions ease, it is a particularly anxious time for many, and now is a critical moment for your organisation to consider these issues and show compassionate leadership.
The impacts of COVID-19 are far-reaching. The way in which it affected our work was the second highest concern after the impact on our wellbeing, as restrictions were first introduced (ONS). The feelings of uncertainty in being able to plan has heighted our anxieties, and it's important to recognise the signs of mental ill health in the workplace. The two most common mental ill health conditions which have worsened because of COVID-19 are depression and anxiety. This is where the role of a mental health first aider can be particularly helpful, taking a proactive approach to notice changes in mood or behaviour, body language, appearance or tone of voice.
Poor mental health is increasing
Almost one in five adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 before the pandemic. (ONS) During lockdown there were many causes of anxiety including loneliness, financial worries, adjustment to working from home and the demands of home-schooling. As restrictions ease, the causes of anxiety have shifted. Will my job be different? Will I feel safe at work? Will my family members be able to manage without me at home? Is my job at risk? Some may be questioning whether they want to return to work at all and whether they are happy with their job. This can generate more anxiety as it heightens uncertainty.
Even before the pandemic the global cost of mental-ill health through lost productivity, absences and staff turnover was estimated by the World Health Organisation to be around $2.5 trillion annually. Just four months before lockdown commenced Deloitte’s second report on the state of mental ill health put the cost to UK plc at up to £45 billion annually. They broke this down to the employee level. For each employee absent due to mental ill health, it costs the business about £1650. But it’s important to note that the figure should be tripled for the cost of presenteeism (coming to work but due to ill health, being unproductive). Given the fear of redundancy that many employees will be feeling as they return to work, we can be sure that presenteeism is higher than ever. This is a near invisible drain of talent, productivity and value in the business and a direct hit on the bottom line. The sooner this is addressed, the sooner businesses can stop wasting money and instead, get a turn the tide on the tsunami of mental ill health that is predicted.
One thing that the pandemic has done, is bring into sharp focus the responsibility of the employer is protecting employee wellbeing and proactively taking steps to support those who are vulnerable.
One thing that the pandemic has done, is bring into sharp focus the responsibility of the employer is protecting employee wellbeing and proactively taking steps to support those who are vulnerable. Since leading psychologists and neuroscientists are predicting a global wave of mental ill health will follow the pandemic (The Lancet), addressing mental health in the workplace has decidedly shifted from a corporate responsibility to a business imperative.
All parts of society have been impacted
The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in our society, and there has been an uneven distribution of negative impacts across different demographic segments. For example, a survey of 50,000 by TUC during the January 2021 lockdown, (i.e., when home-schooling returned) found that 65% of mothers were juggling working from home with caring responsibilities. Nine in ten said it had a negative impact on their mental health with increasing levels of anxiety and stress. Women have been more likely to have lost their jobs than men (1/3 lost jobs or hours due to lack of childcare during the pandemic) That rises to 44% when it comes to Black, Asian and minority ethnic mothers (TUC 2021).
An estimated 4.5 million people have been forced to become unpaid carers for sick, older or disabled relatives by the COVID-19 pandemic. 28% of carers who work full-time also provide at least 30 hours of care per week – equivalent to a second full-time job! Unsurprisingly, more than 70% of the new, unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, many already living in poverty, said it was the source of significant stress.
The greatest increase in mental distress was among those ages 18-24 (The Lancet, October 2020) Young people missed taking part in team sports and the social benefits of exercising with friends, they experienced feelings of loneliness, experienced sleep issues, are more at risk of losing their job and had greater financial concerns.
People from BAME backgrounds have had higher levels of depression and anxiety during lockdown.
People from BAME backgrounds have had higher levels of depression and anxiety during lockdown according to the on-going University College London study (UCL), as well as lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness. By the end of July 2020, according to FCA 2021 the earnings of BAME workers had dropped by an average of 14% compared to their February 2020 level, while those of white workers had only dropped by 5%.
Everyone has experienced their own individual challenges during the pandemic. Feelings of grief, fear, depression, financial worries, isolation and loneliness are increasingly common, and people have developed different coping strategies, not all of them healthy! For example, one in seven people reported drinking large amounts of alcohol more frequently during lockdown according to a study by UCL.
Why it's important to refresh your skills
The Mental Health Refresher course explores the additional pressures experienced by employees during the pandemic and considers the five ways to wellbeing in the post-pandemic work environment. It considers the impact of their employment situation – whether they continued to work in the workplace, worked from home or were furloughed – and the different challenges each situation presents. Particularly relevant for those who are responsible for mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, it will also help you to consider your current practices and create an action plan going forward to ensure you are supporting good mental health and employee wellbeing and encouraging an open culture in your organisation.
Mental Health Refresher training is for those who have already been trained as mental health first aiders and is designed to build upon skills already learned. If you’re not yet at that point then your first step is to gain the initial qualification as a Workplace Mental Health First Aider (two-day course) or a Workplace First Aid Responder (one-day course).
The cost of standing still on this crucial issue far outweighs the opportunity cost of investing in what company’s often describe as their most valuable asset. Let’s not waste this opportunity as we transition into the new ways of working. Invest now to ensure that you face into the coming challenges with a workforce that is happy, healthy and future fit.