Mental Health professionals have talked about the silent pandemic of mental health that is happening in the background of COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier the world population used to be divided by race, nationality, religion and so on. But the new world order divides it into two categories –
- COVID-19 survivors
- CO- Virgins
Regardless of the category, everyone today is at a greater risk of mental health issues. This is bound to impact every aspect of our lives, including our work life. Let’s examine both these categories one by one and issues related to each.
Having been exposed to the virus, testing positive, going through doctors’ appointments, medications, constantly monitoring pulse and oxygen, in some cases – hunting for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and so on, this journey in itself is fraught with stress, anxiety, uncertainty. In one word – nothing short of trauma. Having survived this ordeal for 15-20 days, one has to deal with:
- Concentration Difficulties: Being able to sustain focus and keep at a task disengages us from it every few minutes, disallowing us to be productive. Post-COVID recovery, it is one of the challenges that is felt whether in a home task or a work task.
- Physical Fatigue: While the virus may have left the body, gaining the physical strength takes a while, making even the simplest chores an uphill task. Low energy, combined with low concentration levels, getting back to work and achieving a satisfactory level of productivity can take time.
- Low motivation: With the series of stressful events, the focus tends to be health and what’s in store next. Therefore, we feel unable to motivate ourselves to achieve much outside of health tasks.
- Mental Health Issues
- Anxiety: Anxiety usually pertains to what the after-effects might bring, given that it is a fairly new virus and no one including the medical fraternity can predict how the after effects might evolve.
- Insomnia: Worrying thoughts of disease and its after-effects are right now one of the largest causes of insomnia.
- Depression: Prolonged social isolation leads to social withdrawal. And one of the key symptoms of depression is social withdrawal. So in a way, this disease has inbuilt depression in it.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: When we mentally relive the same traumatic events of the past over and over again, we go through the same impact mentally, emotionally and physically.
While this category may not have gone through the ordeal of the disease themselves, they would certainly have been an integral part of someone else’s journey. This group would have to have dealt with the following:
- Stress: While the key reason for stress is fear of contracting the disease, there is an additional mental burden of employment, financial uncertainty.
- Depression: The COVID‐19 pandemic has forced a worldwide lockdown with huge numbers of citizens confined to their homes, resulting in social isolation. However, longer lasting social isolation gradually increases loneliness, which is a crucial risk factor for mental disturbances, including depression and addiction disorders.
- Anxiety and Insomnia: Prolonged work hours and no personal space is causing anxiety and leading to sleepless nights. Prescriptions for insomnia even lead to an initial shortage of certain medications in the market.
- Grief/Loss of a loved one: Even though we were lucky enough to escape the disease (so far), we definitely would have lost someone we knew and loved dearly. Grieving is a long arduous process. And we never really stop grieving. But just learn to live with it.
Organisations will have to take steps to keep employee engagement and productivity going, but also take steps to ensure mental and emotional wellbeing of the employees.
Workplace Mental Health Consequences – Support Model for Employees
- A Psychologist/ Counsellor on Rolls: In these times, it’s not just nice to have a counselling psychologist on the rolls but it’s a must have. We know for a fact that people seeking mental health help has gone up by 300% since the pandemic started (as per US census data) Imagine the numbers if we include all those who don’t seek help. A psychologist in these times can be a valuable resource impacting productivity and employee morale directly.
- Giving Meaning to Everyone’s Work: We all want to believe that what we do – matters. Something that makes a difference in the large scheme of things. Communication that helps them understand how their work fits in with the larger goals of the organisation. They can also be given additional responsibilities as well in work that makes a difference at the organisational cultural level such as CSR initiatives of the organisation, or diversity projects and so on.
- Sick Leave Policies for the New Normal: Majority of the organisation only account for leaves when we are physically sick. Even if we did not consider sick leave for mental health before, at this juncture, it is important to consider this alteration to the policy, given how the pandemic has impacted mental health.
- Higher Flexibility: Certain organisations have gone out of their way to provide flexibility in schedules since they understand everyone is without help and all family members are at home. There are a couple of organisations that have a concept of ‘Flexi Fridays’ where there are no meetings so employees are able to accommodate their home chores within work hours too.
- Welcome to Office Plan: Over the last 16-18 months, we have gotten used to a very different lifestyle and routine. Organisations would need a return- to-work plan to enable a meaningful transition from WFH to Welcome to Office with all the possible safety measures. Social distanced working, mental health plans, partial remote working would still need to have thought through plans given that a 3rd wave could be arriving anytime.
Conclusion: As we prepare to open up, we do not yet know what the third wave might bring. We can hope for the best that by that time, a majority of us would be fully vaccinated and therefore the severity of disease would be more suited to the current healthcare infrastructure. But I personally feel we should brace for a long pandemic of mental health and prepare accordingly.
Unfortunately, there is still shame and stigma associated with acknowledging the problem. And even more in reaching out to a mental health professional.