- Covid-19 and Mental Health – The Other ‘Second Wave’

In our June Blog, we discussed steps for running an organisation in a time post-Covid-19.  However, getting back to ‘normal’ is about more than simply the operational practicalities. 

Although many of us will have experienced periods of anxiety, stress and loneliness during the pandemic and at times these feelings may have overwhelmed us, when things improve, most of us will experience improved mental health also.  However, for a significant number of people, unfortunately the effects of the pandemic on their mental health will be far more serious and long lasting.

In analysis published in May 2020 by the Centre for Mental Health, it was found that the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to increase the number of people in the UK experiencing mental health issues over the next two years.  These findings were based on evidence taken from previous international epidemics and from the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that, if Covid-19 brings about an economic recession like the 2008 banking crisis, roughly half a million more people will experience mental health challenges over the coming year.  Should there be a second wave of Covid-19, resulting in further economic damage, those effects on mental health are expected to be even greater.

The expected effects on mental health are already being dubbed the ‘Second Wave’ of Covid-19.

Dr Mark Parrish, Regional Medical Director at International SOS, the world’s largest medical and travel security services firm, said, “The issue of mental health potentially being a major threat to business resilience has been brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic. Home working, isolation and the stress of the unknown is taking its toll on many of the workforce. It will be important to address this going forward, extending confidential support to employees whenever and wherever they need it the most.”

What Can Employers Do?

Although everyone has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, in one way or another, it is important to identify, where possible, if you have any employees who fall into specific groups for whom mental health challenges may be a particular threat.  Then, to ask pertinent questions of your organisation and what it can do to address them.

1. Individuals Who Have Been Directly Affected

  • Employees who have been sadly bereaved during the pandemic, due to virus itself or any other reason; 
  • Employees, or employees with family members who have been infected, and have possibly received hospital treatment for the virus; 
  • Employees who are working on, or dealing with the frontline, and possibly in contact with health and care services; and
  • Employees with family members whose own mental health has deteriorated or reached crisis point.
         Questions to ask of your organisation:
        • Are you able to provide time off or be more flexible around working hours for employees?
        • Are you able to provide support or allowances for those juggling their work roles with caring roles?
        • Are you able to arrange counselling for employees affected by negative experiences, illness or loss?
        • Can you provide flexible working hours that allow affected employees time to attend such counselling?

         2. Individuals who are at a higher risk 

        • Employees with underlying or long-term health conditions; 
        • Employees from BAME communities, as identified by the government as being at greater risk.
          Questions to ask of your organisation: 
          • Are you able to provide or make necessary adjustments to ensure a COVID-19 safe working environment?
          • Are you able to instill confidence in your employees that your workplace is safe and your hygiene practices effective?
          • Will you consider taking steps to protect those in high risk groups by arranging for them to work remotely where possible?
          • Are there any provisions you can make or support you can offer in the event that a high risk employee falls ill?

           3. Individuals with particular considerations

          • Employees caring for and home educating children during the school closures;
          • Employees living with or caring for family members who are at high risk.
           Questions to ask of your organisation:
          • Are you able to offer flexible working or additional/emergency time off for working parents or carers?
          • Are you able to provide increased flexibility with regards to workloads and deadlines?
          • Are you able to ensure a COVID-19 safe working environment for employees who will be returning home to high risk family members?

           4. Individuals with ‘hidden’ challenges

          • Employees dealing with loneliness and isolation while working from home or furloughed;
          • Employees with existing but undisclosed mental health issues such as anxiety and depression;
          • Employees who have been at greater risk of violence or domestic abuse during lockdown.
           Questions to ask of your organisation:
          • Are you able to provide support networks and good communication channels that keep all employees in touch with each other regularly?
          • Are you able to offer or arrange access to counselling for any employees who may wish to take it up?
          • Are you able to provide access to (confidential) sources of support for those with challenging living situations?

          Mental health issues will potentially be one of the most enduring effects of the pandemic, and while there are practical steps for getting an organisation back to ‘normal’, ultimately, organisations are nothing without the people in them.  Employers can and should commit to providing as much peace of mind as possible at a very uncertain time for everyone. 

          While not an exhaustive list, we hope that by addressing these questions, you may be left with the beginning of a blueprint for supporting and managing your employees through the pandemic and its after-effects, and in turn, ensuring the survival of your organisation.