New insights released from the United Nations warn of the Covid-19 crisis turning into a double global crisis with mental illness on the rise across the world as a result of the health pandemic.
If there was ever a case for businesses getting on the front foot and investing in mental health support for staff, this should be it.
“The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil – they all cause or could cause psychological distress,” said Devora Kestel, director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) mental health department.
Presenting a U.N. report and policy guidance on COVID-19 and mental health, Kestel said an upsurge in the number and severity of mental illnesses is likely, and governments should put the issue “front and centre” of their responses.
The crisis is testing the mental health of even the most resilient
The UN paper also highlights a warning from The Lancet Commission On Global Mental Health And Sustainable Development, that “many people who previously coped well, are now less able to cope because of the multiple stressors generated by the pandemic”.
Employers can’t take for granted that a once mentally ‘resilient’ workforce is still able to cope in the same ways. Our self-care toolkits are being turned on their heads with work and personal life suddenly being melded into one; with there no longer being any boundaries between family and professional time.
“During the COVID-19 emergency, people are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members”, the UN recommendations explain. “At the same time, vast numbers of people have lost or are at risk of losing their livelihoods, have been socially isolated and separated from loved ones, and, in some countries, have experienced stay-at-home orders implemented in drastic ways.”
Caring for the most vulnerable
Whilst societies are looking closely after those groups that are most vulnerable to the infection, in terms of social welfare for mental health risk, the UN paper affirms that specifically, women and children are at greater (physical) and mental risk as a result of increased domestic violence and abuse.
Health workers across the world are reporting an increased need for psychological support, says the report. “There were some surveys that were done in Canada where 47 per cent of healthcare workers reported (the) need for psychological support – 47 per cent – so almost half of them”, said Ms. Kestel.
Reuters last week reported interviews with doctors and nurses in the United States who said either they or their colleagues had experienced a combination of panic, anxiety, grief, numbness, irritability, insomnia and nightmares.
The UN appeal, what needs to happen next?
A key part of the UN appeal is for mental health care to be incorporated into all Governments’ COVID-19 strategies, given that national average expenditure on it is just two per cent.
It outlined action points for policy-makers to aim “to reduce immense suffering among hundreds of millions of people and mitigate long-term social and economic costs to society”.
These included redressing historic under-investment in psychological services, providing “emergency mental health” via remote therapies such as tele-counselling for frontline health workers, and working proactively with people known to have depression and anxiety, and with those at high risk of domestic violence and acute impoverishment.
The role workplaces play
As employers are preparing recovery plans for staff, clear guidance from governments on how to ensure health (including mental health) and safety of workers is critical.
But whilst governments are working to draft such guidance, employers should not wait idly. They must recognise their social responsibility to their human capital in this time of social crisis. Investing in programmes of mental health support including teletherapies, online mental health training, and digital mental health tools for home workers should be a top priority for every employer right now—as there is no health without mental health. And the successful recovery of businesses after the crisis will be dependent on the health and wellbeing of their workers.
Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She’s also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, during her time working for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She’s passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces toward normalising mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she’s an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.