Keeping Mentally Healthy during Coronavirus

30th March 2020

This information was first published on 30th March 2020. Please note that as government, public health and WHO guidance is routinely reviewed and updated, this information may become out of date. Please ensure that you read all updates available and only access the most recent versions of documents issued.

Employee health and wellbeing – keeping mentally healthy during coronavirus

From “anxiety scrolling” through to feeling isolated and afraid, through to managing the practicalities of working from home, employers have a big job on their hands during the coronavirus crisis to support and look after the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.

We all know the last few weeks have been, and felt, completely unprecedented. The coronavirus crisis has affected all facets of working and personal life, whether we’re now working from home, juggling work and kids, self-isolating, struggling on as key workers or just looking at the long-term economic picture with deep foreboding.  All this, inevitably, has significant implications for employee health and wellbeing.

However, while we may be in uncharted waters economically and socially, there is much employers can do – and should be doing – to support their employees during these challenging times, especially their mental health and wellbeing.

Many organisations will have gone through a massive upheaval over the last few weeks, with whole sectors collapsing or being put into lockdown, non-essential events or face-to-face activities being cancelled or postponed and employees needing to be set up with the ability to work from home where they can.

That, of course, has been deeply challenging logistically and operationally. But now, as we move forward to potentially an extended lockdown on our working and personal lives, employers also need to be addressing the mental health and wellbeing aspects of all this upheaval.

Isolation and anxiety

Employees working from home may be struggling with isolation or suddenly being on top of each other or simply a sense of being cooped up.

There may be worries and anxieties about the practicalities of how to keep working while managing childcare. They may be fearful for the future – for their health, the health of loved ones, their future income or job security even with the government’s support packages (especially if they or their partner’s sector or income has gone down or even disappeared completely).

The constant grim news as the virus spreads and the impact of social media, which can lead to so-called “anxiety scrolling” or constantly checking news and social media feeds and becoming increasingly anxious as a result, can be another impact on their social and mental health and wellbeing.

The good news (and there is some) is that there is help and guidance out there already. For example, SOM, the Society of Occupational Medicine, has put out a range of resources and guidance for occupational health professionals offering advice and support on mental health and wellbeing, especially for remote workers. It also has a number of useful expert commentaries available on its website.

There are resources available around health surveillance and musculoskeletal health and home working from the Health and Safety Executive. Business in the Community, too, has published guidance on supporting employees during this crisis.

Value of EAPs

The EAP Association has highlighted the potentially valuable role that Employee Assistance Programmes can play in these anxious times. As chair Eugene Farrell says: “EAP has predominantly been a face-to-face support after the initial call. However, need necessitates that telephone support sessions will become the new normal during this national crisis.

“We recognise that many affiliates may not have the experience or feel comfortable working by phone or online. Most people have experience at using the telephone and will adapt to this quite easily with some training. To that end EAPA is compiling guidance… and will also provide a training webinar on this subject,” he adds.

More widely, employers may need to recognise, and offer support around, the general levels of anxiety, uncertainty, fear and psychological dislocation many employees and workers will be feeling right now.

For many employees, even if they know their work is relatively secure, there may be a sense almost of bereavement, for the loss of ‘normality’ or certainty in what has been a period of immense upheaval, change and uncertainty. There will be fear for the future, for what it means for them, their families and children, their loved ones, especially any elderly dependents or those who may be at high risk from Covid-19. Employers should therefore be prioritising guidance and support around mental and emotional as well as physical health (such as maintaining regular exercise or good diet).