Before COVID-19 took hold, what trends were you seeing in respect of mental health in the workplace?
Before the pandemic we were helping to provide support to our customers and their families particularly in situations where both parents were having to commit professionally to work longer hours causing greater pressure on the family as a unit. There is currently a high demand for accessible community support systems and treatment options for children and adolescents suffering with mental ill health, which could potentially increase post COVID-19 lockdown.
How could the current controls against the pandemic e.g. social distancing/working from home impact people’s mental health?
Each individual is unique and will respond differently to everyday pressure and stress in a home or work environment. Solitary working is not for everyone and the recent COVID-19 lockdown has intensified a presentation of mental ill health symptoms for some individuals. Some people really need social interaction in their workplace, others are very comfortable working from home. It can become a very lonely time, stuck at home surrounded by negative news reports, without being able to talk through those feelings. Working within the confines of home with other family members can also challenge our self-worth as we often have two separate identities – a work identity and a personal identity – and people may feel these identities are starting to merge into one. Finding a practical and balanced daily routine is really important.
People may need to talk more to someone outside of the home environment – recent events have emphasised the importance of supportive line management with training in mental health and wellbeing. By using positive communication skills, with kindness and compassion, these routine communications will build a good relationship with staff and colleagues in these difficult times. Remember, conversations should not be all about work, people should still take part in normal social events – albeit not face-to-face, whether that is a regular virtual coffee or lunch, or to celebrate birthdays and mark different occasions. Maintaining a normal routine, even remotely, will help maintain good mental health and wellbeing.
Are you seeing any of these scenarios in your role?
It is too early to fully comprehend the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, but professionals are anticipating an increase in the level of mental ill-health experienced, both in lockdown and afterwards. The impact of financial pressures will also almost certainly impact on the mental health and wellbeing of a significant number of individuals following the COVID-19 lockdown measures.
As we move on in time, I expect to see more people coming to us for help and support. The importance of multi-faceted support will be vital. Private healthcare providers will be able to work alongside the community facilities which have developed a strong community service base, to assist with some of the potential problems that society may experience post COVID-19 lockdown. At the moment, people are just coping with their immediate issues – but all available services across the private, public and charity sectors will play a really important role in assisting our society with a return to normality.
How can people help control anxiety and feelings of isolation?
It is really important for people to maintain their relationships with family, friends and colleagues during these difficult times. They need to keep a balanced perspective on the current situation, even though this is hard. It is easy to become over-exposed to media reports, but that can be overwhelming, so people should limit their exposure to news reporting, perhaps just the morning or afternoon, to keep up to date. They need to try to maintain a regular daily routine, get up and go to bed as -they would normally, eat a balanced diet and limit -their alcohol intake. Regular exercise is also important to maintain good health and wellbeing.
Importantly, people should be confident to reach out for help if they need to – talking will help, calling family or friends; their manager. Employee benefits such as Private Healthcare, Digital GP services, Group Income Protection or an Employee Assistance Programme can also play a key role during this time.
How can employers help?
The most important thing for employers is to know and understand their staff – using listening skills and responding appropriately with help and support to meet their individual needs. Employees can be referred for help and support as a part of their employer’s workplace health and wellbeing toolkit, which as mentioned above may include Private Healthcare, Group Income Protection or an Employee Assistance Programme.
Good communication from management should promote easy access to the available help and support for employees. Promoting all the services available should be a regular part of team conversations, so that everyone is aware how and where to access help.
What do you think the future holds?
It is difficult to know what will occur post COVID-19 lockdown, with immediate priorities directed to dealing with and managing the current crisis. Mental health services will most certainly be under pressure to provide for an increased need for treatment. Planning for this is already underway, with community services actively working to maintain good community wellbeing. Some charities and the private sector are also actively involved in support and treatment provision.
There are also potential positives to be taken from this global traumatic event, with perhaps reflection, recognition and understanding of what is of true value and matters most to each of us.
The time people are spending with family and loved ones will hopefully strengthen those relationships and bonds into the future and promote healthier family units. Neighbourhood communities are stronger – we have seen many examples of people coming together to help those who are more vulnerable. The workplace too will perhaps see stronger support systems for all workers, whether remote or office based, with greater awareness and support which has developed to ensure flexible working and the ongoing wellbeing of all employees.
Click below to gain further insights on wellbeing when working remotely, with the ‘Remote control’ guide from Aviva UK Health and Protection.