The coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on mental health like never before, with a slew of startling statistics revealing the effects of the crisis: The majority of employees say they are dealing with some type of mental health issue as a result of the pandemic. Many are scared about their physical health, their childcare responsibilities, new realities of social distancing and remote work. Financial stressors are sky-high, with employees worried about losing their jobs, having less money or seeing their 401(k) balances drop. Sixty-nine percent of employees say it’s the most stressful time of their career—even more stressful than major events like Sept. 11 and the 2008 Great Recession.
One study’s findings indicate not only the stress-induced impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employees, but its major implications for employers as well. According to the study, 88% of workers reported experiencing moderate to extreme stress over the past 4 to 6 weeks. Among those reporting stress, 62% noted losing at least 1 hour a day in productivity and 32% lost at least 2 hours a day due to coronavirus related stress.
Prior to the pandemic, use of antianxiety and anti-insomnia medications were both on the decline from 2015 to 2019, down 12% and 11.3%, respectively. In the months since the coronavirus arrived in the U.S., new prescriptions for antianxiety medications exhibited a 37.7% increase, stressing the vital need for therapeutic intervention.
If your organization does not offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or similar program, there are still things you can do to support your workforce as they deal with the current stresses. You may want to circle back after the crisis has passed to see if you can deploy an EAP for future crisis issues. Whatever resources you do have available, it is crucial to let your employees know about them. Employees may have a lot on their mind and may be experiencing high levels of stress – they may be more distracted, which is typical. You may need to tell them repeatedly and in a variety of ways how to access mental health services.
Putting mental health at the forefront of the conversation is an important step that organizations can take to ensure that employees have the support and resources they need now and for the future. This very topic is covered in one of Cheril Clarke’s recent blog posts, “Employers Can Play a Positive Role in Employee Mental Health.” She is the founder of PhenomenalWriting.com and is an expert on business communication. Cheril says, “Employers can help in many ways, especially as it relates to communication.” She has three ways that employers can help.
1. Communicate Often
- Let employees know they are valued.
- Provide frequent updates on the state of the company.
- Share how to access telehealth or remote nurse line counseling.
- Discuss coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment available through your healthcare plans or through public programs. You may have employees who are not on your plan, so include information about accessing public COVID-19 testing and treatment.
2. Educate Employees
- Provide up to date and accurate information on the spread of COVID-19 by using trusted, fact-based, non-partisan resources.
- Offer advice on not stockpiling medication, if possible and safe medication habits if you do take medications and have a large quantity in-house.
- Post information on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 from reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Provide links to national support resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the CDC.
- Explain coverage for seeking routine care, chronic illness and urgent care.
3. Provide Support
- Telehealth and crisis counseling by phone, Zoom, FaceTime or text.
- Online and local behavioral health support group information.
- Connections and support for people with mental health or substance use disorders.
- Resources for financial counseling and accessing financial aid.
- Resources for food insecure homes.
- Resources for childcare, nursing care, etc.
- Provide a confidential help line or email address where employees can raise concerns and ask for help anonymously. Be ready to help or link to local or national resources on common employee concerns, such as applying for unemployment, food insecurity, childcare, etc.
- Ensure return-to-work policies, typically used following an illness, are flexible.
Although the pandemic is casting a light on what needs to be done now, in a tumultuous environment, many hope the changes are here to stay even when things reopen and life gets more or less back to normal. Mental health issues and stress were already on the rise among employees before the pandemic, and they certainly won’t just disappear post-pandemic.