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The coronavirus pandemic has a central part of our lives for just over a year now, but issues surrounding mental health have been problems for much, much longer.
While people’s mental health was deteriorating long before COVID hit, issues brought about by the ongoing health crisis have caused it to decline even further.
Many large companies already offered their employees access to mental health services, but the demand for these services has drastically increased within the past year.
According to Champion Health, searches on workplace mental health have gone up by 800% during lockdown, with an 85% increase in searches for ‘workplace wellbeing initiatives’. It’s thought that these statistics represent an additional 1,440 employers actively researching ways to improve the mental health services they provide.
These searches come in the wake of many employees across the globe having expressed concerns about their mental wellbeing during the pandemic. In June 2020, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that 40.9% of the 5,470 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioural health condition, reported Forbes. Meanwhile, further research from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that from June’s study, 53% of respondents reported that worrying about COVID was affecting their mental health.
Looking at workplace mental health in particular, McKinsey & Company‘s annual employer survey showed that 9 out of 10 employers noted behavioural health as being among the top workforce health concerns, and indicated that COVID was affecting their workforce’s behavioural health and/or productivity.
McKinsey & Company’s June 2020 survey also noted that larger companies are most likely to continue, expand or introduce mental health services for their employees. However, when looking at all respondents – large and small companies – it was shown that 60% were looking to continue, expand or introduce their mental health services in light of the ongoing pandemic.
It’s not new information that employees work better and are more productive when they’re feeling mentally well; one example being Lucy Dodds, who has found the mental health services she’s accessed through work have helped her become more relaxed both when working and in general.
Lucy has battled an eating disorder – a type of mental health condition – for many years, and, while she felt like she had it under control, it came to a head during the pandemic. Due to this, she decided to access mental health services provided by her work in August 2020.
Lucy told UNILAD, ‘My employer provides us with a premium health insurance package, so we can get in touch with a health professional whenever we need it. I have accessed a psychiatrist and psychologist who have been able to prescribe medication, plus provide self-help and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help with my eating disorder in lockdown.’
Seven months on, and Lucy has reaped the rewards of the professional help provided by her employer and has found it has benefitted her work and her home life. She explained, ‘I’ve particularly benefitted from the CBT, as it’s made me more open and has encouraged me to stop hiding away and let my family, friends and colleagues help me. It’s a huge relief now that more people know.’
I’m starting to feel a lot lighter, and while I didn’t think my work was affected a few months ago, I can see now that I was being pretty abrupt with colleagues, especially if something went wrong or my plans deviated – no excuses, but this isn’t unusual for people with eating disorders to see everything in black and white!
Now that CBT has helped to lift the load, I can feel myself readying to socialise again, being more open to changes and generally more relaxed in work and life. I’m beginning to look forward to the future and hopefully be a less stressful colleague!
Someone else who found they hugely benefitted from using the services available through their work is Dee Holder. Dee also struggled with their mental health prior to the pandemic but only utilised the help their work offered after ‘the pandemic amplified and revealed issues [they’d] been ignoring for a fair few years’.
Discussing their history with mental health, Dee explained to UNILAD, ‘I have always struggled low-level/behind the scenes despite ‘successes’ in life. I’d always just drown out the mental noise with human company or vices such as drinking.’
‘However, it became clear that my mental health was actually an issue when my partner had to go abroad for a funeral just before lockdown, and was unable to return. I ended up left on my own throughout lockdown and found it impossible to drown out the negative thoughts and self-talk,’ Dee added.
Dee has since leaned into several of the mental health services available through their employer MVF including yoga, speaking to the company’s mental health first aiders, using couples’ counselling to help Dee and their partner through the difficulty of not being together through the pandemic, and subscribing to the Headspace app, which their employer pays for.
Since accessing these services, Dee has found themselves to feel a lot better in many ways. They said:
My relationship is in a really good place despite long-distance issue in 2020 and I’m more comfortable in my own skin than ever before, which is honestly a place I never thought I’d get to. I don’t think I could have got to this point without the support I’ve recently accessed.
‘I’m now able to use mindfulness techniques at crisis points as well, rather than turning straight to vices and I actually managed to quit tobacco in 2020 thanks to the coping mechanisms I learned.’
Dee added, ‘I have been able to come out publicly and bring my whole self to work, which I believe allows for more candid leadership and honesty, meaning tough conversations during tough business months are more personal, effective and actionable.’
Lucy and Dee are just some of the many people that demonstrate that if employers look after their staff – through and after the pandemic – both they and their employees will reap the rewards.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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