Protecting Your Employees’ Mental Health During the Coronavirus

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have focused on the practical aspects of ensuring their employees have the means to work safely and productively at their home or workplace. However, many may overlook the emotional aspects of navigating through this global health crisis.

For many workers, higher levels of stress and anxiety cause higher levels of depression. Even before the outbreak of this disease, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. suffered from mental illness and only about 43 percent received treatment.

Unfortunately, many people do not seek help because of the societal stigma associated with mental health problems or lack of access to mental health professionals. Without the proper intervention, employees can suffer even more serious mental health conditions or even suicide.

Apart from the fear of actually contracting COVID-19, other worries may cause employees to experience rising anxiety and depression during the pandemic. For example, an isolated and unfamiliar work environment may trigger the conditions of those with underlying mental health issues or a propensity toward anxiety. Other persons may be worried about balancing work and home activities, the potential for job loss and poor finances.

Consequently, it is vitally important to provide support to employees who may be vulnerable to mental health issues before they experience a crisis. Employers must ensure that workers are aware of their mental health resources and benefits, and create a culture of acceptance where they can comfortably and safely seek help.

Many employer-sponsored group insurance plans that offer mental health coverage also include an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) designed to offer medical support for employees, including an integrated suicide prevention program that is created in consultation with mental health professionals.

The EAP can help employees learn more about signs and symptoms, risk factors, treatment options and where to seek support and resources. An EAP should address the following issues:

1. Stigma reduction
An effective EAP helps reduce stigma around mental health issues and encourages the likelihood of individuals reaching out for help when they need it. It is important for employers to communicate that mental health issues are just as important to address as physical health issues.

2. Sensitization training
Employers must have an environment where they feel safe to share their experiences relevant to mental health, particularly suicide, and receive help in a confidential and non-judgmental way. This requires sensitivity training at all levels of the organization to encourage open communication about mental health issues.

3. Awareness programs
Employee awareness programs can be implemented to bring mental health and suicide prevention into conversation at the workplace. This could include informational fliers, posters, workshops and discussions centered on the theme of mental health.

4. Recognizing symptoms
Employees can be trained to watch out for signs of distress, provide emotional support and refer individuals to mental health professionals for additional resources and support.

5. Follow-up services
It is ideal to have on staff a full- or part-time mental health professional whom employees may contact for support or referral services. These individuals may also help the organization identify more vulnerable groups or persons in distress, as well as help empower employees who have suicidal thoughts to reach out.

It is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic for businesses to ensure their employees have quick and easy access to mental health resources. Treating mental health as seriously as physical health is key to creating a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

Pacific Federal is a Zenith American Solutions company and subsidiary of Harbour Benefit Holdings, Inc.