The challenges and tragedies brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the mental health of many Americans. Since early 2020, experts have warned of a mental health crisis caused by the prolonged public health emergency, and we see signs of that crisis coming to fruition.
According to Bloomberg’s Employers Brace for Covid’s Mental Health Fallout as Workers Return article, “Covid-19’s damage may be felt in the workplace long after the disease has receded. That’s thanks to the mental and emotional toll the pandemic has taken on employees who, like everyone else, have spent the past year living in fear, isolation, and sorrow... Bosses need to be cognizant that many employees are—for the first time in their lives—facing a bout of overeating, anxiety, depression or even substance use.”
If you plan to bring employees back to your workplace in the coming months, this may add a layer of complexity. But there are steps you can take to lead with empathy and show your support. 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. This, in turn, gives them the tools they need to be more inspired and productive individuals, at home and on the job.
Mental Health Experts Predicted “Second Pandemic”
In October 2020, the American Psychological Association released its report, Stress in AmericaTM 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis, which warned of a “second pandemic” caused by COVID-19’s impact on American’s long-term physical and mental health. The APA followed the report with a survey in January 2021 that found that 80% of adults cited the coronavirus pandemic as a significant source of stress, second only to their concerns about the nation’s future.
Survey responses reveal that physical health may be declining due to an inability to cope in healthy ways with the stresses of the pandemic.
— Stress in America 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis
According to the APA, “Many reported they have gained or lost an undesired amount of weight, are drinking more alcohol to cope with stress and are not getting their desired amount of sleep. This is particularly true of parents, essential workers, young people and people of color.”
Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of Americans experiencing signs of anxiety or depression has increased fivefold since 2019—from about 8% to 41%. 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 important to do the following:
- Remove the stigma surrounding mental health and depression
- Become educated on the warning signs and triggers
- Practice self-care and seek help when needed
Learn to Recognize Mental Health Warning Signs and Triggers
Symptoms of mental health distress are not always as apparent as a physical illness, but they deserve equal consideration and attention in your workplace safety plan.
Employees suffering from mental health or wellness issues might demonstrate:
- A decrease in or lack of productivity
- Physical symptoms
- Changes in personality/behavior
The Center for Workplace Mental Health—a part of the APA—warns that it is not an employer’s place to diagnose a mental health issue but rather to express care and concern for an employee or colleague who might be anxious or depressed. If you notice your employee’s behavior or job performance has been suffering and the changes persist for two or more weeks, it could be time for you to address the situation.
“Though addressing mental health in the workplace is becoming much more common, it can still be difficult to talk about given the stigma that surrounds it,” said Grace Jaén, Vice President of Health and Welfare for G&A Partners. “Unfortunately, there are many employees struggling with mental health issues that choose to suffer in the dark, but if they feel comfortable and supported, they are much more likely to reach out for help.”
Proactive steps an employer can take in the workplace include scheduling regular one-on-one check-in meetings with employees, encouraging a healthy work-life balance, and familiarizing yourself – and training your managers – to recognize signs that your employees may be struggling.
Learn more about the warning signs for anxiety and depression, and share this information with your management team, so they are aware of what to look out for when interacting with their employees and colleagues.
Emphasize Mental Health Resources in Your Workplace Safety Plan
When your employees’ mental health is strained, it can result in reduced productivity, poor work quality, low morale, higher employee turnover, and an increased risk of employee injury and disease, according to the experts in G&A Partners' "Workplace Wellness and Mental Health" webinar.
Consider launching a mental health awareness initiative that educates your employees about benefits and resources available to them, including employee assistance programs (EAPs), mental health programs, stress management courses, online exercise class memberships, and employee support groups. You might also consider providing employees mental health wellness days and encourage them to use vacation days, particularly if they worked around the clock during the pandemic.
The American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health toolkit provides credible, fact-based information and resources to help you support your employees’ mental health and well-being at work. In addition, the APA survey suggests the following as ways that employers can support workers:
- Provide flexibility to employees. It can help them handle new stressors and responsibilities in their lives, such as a child’s education.
- Provide emotional support through one-on-one check-ins or by reducing an employee’s workload to just essential tasks. Co-workers can support each other by checking in and approaching each other with empathy.
- Communicate clearly to employees and supervisors your workplace expectations, support resources, and new policies that respond directly to impacts created by the pandemic.
As a business owner, remaining flexible and empathetic with employees as they continue to navigate the days ahead is important, particularly when they return to work in person. Keep the lines of communication open, and let your employees know about any changes in business and operational plans as your company moves forward—it will go a long way toward helping your team rebound and forge ahead.
G&A Partners is a leading professional employer organization that offers world-class HR services and a team of experts who can help you navigate employment issues, safety initiatives, and more—during (and after) the pandemic. To learn more, schedule a consultation with one of our knowledgeable business advisors.