Prioritizing Mental Health Post-Pandemic
How to Help Each Other Cope, Get the Care We Need
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended business practices and lifestyles, and for many people, the change in routine has taken its toll on their mental health.
Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of Americans experiencing signs of anxiety or depression has nearly tripled since 2019—from 8% to 31% for anxiety, and from 7% to 25% for depression.
If heightened anxiety or stress is not addressed, it can result in depression. If left untreated, this condition can become debilitating or even life-threatening. On a professional level, depression is a leading cause of lost productivity, so it is imperative that everyone works together to:
- Remove the stigma surrounding mental health and depression
- Become educated on the warning signs and triggers
- Practice self-care and seek help when needed
Remove the stigma surrounding mental health and depression
If an employee is dealing with mental health issues, it could affect his or her work in subtle ways. Managers should:
- Keep an open mind and have a conversation with your employee if there is a noticeable change in their behavior or work output.
- Try not to make assumptions that could later be construed as discriminatory.
- Provide resources that could be useful, such as the website for your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if you have one.
If you are personally struggling with anxiety or depression, be kind to yourself. We are often our own worst critics, and the stigma surrounding mental health may be self-imposed. The Mayo Clinic recommends that we not equate ourselves with our illness and we avoid mistaking our illness as a sign of personal weakness.
Everyone in the world is experiencing the fallout from the pandemic, and we all have our own self-doubts, weaknesses, and fears. It’s important to realize you are not alone.
Become educated on the warning signs and triggers
An increase in media consumption, particularly social media, has been linked to the increases in anxiety and depression by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and others. People are more tied to their phones and the Internet than ever, and this could be affecting their health in negative ways.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has released a comprehensive “COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide” that provides credible, fact-based information and resources to help those suffering from stress or anxiety get the assistance they need.
Many workers are still working from home and may feel especially isolated. If you manage a remote team, check in on them regularly. Employees suffering from mental health issues often feel as if they are alone and no one cares. These employees may require reassurances and a compassionate leader who will simply hear them out.
Human Resources should speak with managers about how to identify signs of stress and burnout, and provide training on active listening, which requires:
- Asking open-ended questions
- Seeking clarification
- Using nonverbal cues to show understanding
- Waiting to disclose your opinion or share similar experiences
Being an active listener will go a long way toward building trust, demonstrating concern, and establishing rapport. Keep in mind that the Center for Workplace Mental Health—a part of the APA—warns that it is not your place to diagnose, but rather to express care and concern for an employee or colleague who might be anxious or depressed. If you notice their behavior or job performance has been changing in a negative way and the changes persist for two or more weeks, that could be a signal that they are suffering right now.
“If the change in behavior or performance is extreme enough to warrant an immediate response, make sure you understand your role within your organization's safety protocols,” the Center says. You can also post the warning signs for anxiety and depression and share them with your team. It will help remove the stigma and normalize these conditions.
Practice self-care and seek help when needed
It’s not always easy to ask for help. We’re used to putting others first—our children, elderly parents, a partner, or our employees, clients, and customers. But now, more than ever, self-care is critical. After all, we will be much better at caring for others if we’re feeling strong and healthy ourselves.
To reduce stress and stay healthy during the pandemic, the Center for Workplace Mental Health recommends you:
- Keep a regular schedule.
- Stay connected with your family, friends, and support systems.
- Get enough rest and keep your immune system strong.
- Exercise and stay active.
- Get fresh air by taking a brisk walk or taking a swim (while avoiding crowds).
If you feel you may need professional counseling, consult your doctor or review your company’s benefits. Many organizations offer a free EAP that can be an excellent source of support, and EAP services typically extend to your immediate family members, including parents. Benefits often include:
- Expert, confidential counseling and support (typically available 24/7)
- Referrals for additional care if needed
- Webinars and helpful videos
Managers, make sure your employees know about every benefit and resource available to them and be flexible and empathetic with your employees whenever possible. When you emphasize the importance of wellness and let your employees know that their mental health and wellbeing are a priority, they are more likely to seek the help they need.
Good communication and transparency can work wonders
As a manager, your support and consistent communication are needed now more than ever, and your employees will be looking to you for guidance or assurances as the pandemic runs its course. Even if you can’t promise security right now, being transparent about how you plan to move your business forward will go a long way toward helping your team prepare for their future accordingly.
This is an opportunity to present a united front, and to lead with kindness and compassion. Your actions now will help establish a thriving culture with happy, healthy, and engaged employees.