In my last article, I covered how the challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything most of us have ever faced and would impact our mental health. Since that publication, many experts and thought leaders in the mental health space have raised the same alarm, citing mental health as a second wave of the pandemic:
“The mental health curve is going to have a long tail,” said Dr. Ken Duckworth the Chief Medical Officer for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). “When life finally returns to normal, the following year will not be a good one for mental health.”
Another recent example, published by the Angus Reid Institute, shows that “Half of Canadians (50%) report a worsening of their mental health, with one-in-ten (10% overall) saying it has worsened “a lot.”
And just yesterday, The Washington Post reported that “The coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis.” As the article states, “Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year.”
Which is why the decisions employers make now will have a profound and lasting impact on their workplaces.
These may include whether to augment their current mental health training and support services; whether to recognize this Mental Health Month by preparing for the likely increase in mental health-related challenges in their workforce. In addition to training, overall benefits could be increased and/or promoted and access to telemedicine or app-based wellness programs, for example.
The employers who are proactive, and who leverage the natural spotlight provided by Mental Health Month to show their teams that mental health is among their highest of priorities, will greatly minimize the negative impacts of this crisis. Employees will be grateful to work for an employer who clearly cares about their mental health, and will benefit from the additional training and services offered. This, in turn, will improve their own mental health management, as well as their communication skills around this sensitive topic.
The employers who choose to wait or do nothing regarding workplace mental health will face an uphill battle for some time. Their teams, already under unprecedented strain from COVID-19, will likely see an increase in mental health challenges as well as diagnosed mental illnesses in the months and years to come, as indicated in the quote above by Dr. Ken Duckworth of NAMI. To compound this problem, employees, managers and leadership won’t have the training or tools required to best respond to the challenge. This could create a difficult situation that could last years.
During times of extreme stress, like we are all in now, prioritizing mental health is absolutely essential – as is the early identification of the onset of a mental illness. There is a real need for everyone to learn more about mental illness and mental health, and that need is higher right now than ever before.
Another major concern is that of self-stigma, which is all too common. When a person suddenly experiences the symptoms of a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, it is extremely easy for them to apply all the stigma, fear and lack of knowledge towards themselves. This can be paralyzing and very dangerous, as people who need help won’t seek it.
So, what can employers do in the face of these challenges?
There are many key strategies, such as specialized training, increased EAP services, telemedicine, app-based wellness programs and more. Employers need to ask these key questions.
- How can we help employees cope during this extreme time?
- What knowledge and tools can we provide through training?
- What support can we offer through our existing EAP programs?
- Do we need to add new support programs?
Any employer asking these questions, and more, with the goal of implementing the programs and tools needed, will have a much greater success rate during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Workplace mental illness and stigma is an expensive problem that hurts employees and ruins company culture. StigmaZero offers online training programs designed to help companies take preventative action to improve mental health in the workplace.
In response to the unique challenges currently faced by all individuals and employers, we are offering a special 50% discount for our innovative online program for any employer who gets started with StigmaZero in the month of May.
If you would like to learn how you can roll out our online program and benefit from the special Mental Health Month discount, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founder of StigmaZero, Author & Instructor of the Create Your StigmaZero Workplace Program
I founded StigmaZero to help employers address the complex and challenging reality of mental illness stigma. We offer companies an innovative solution: our Create Your StigmaZero Workplace online program, which is designed to eliminate the negative impacts that stigma can have on your culture as well as the cost of lost productivity. This program creates real, lasting impact on your company’s ability to manage mental illness and stigma.