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‘Employers must act to restore workers’ mental wellbeing’

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The urgent need for organisations to take steps to mitigate the psychological health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been canvassed.

A report by PAM Group, a United Kingdom-based occupational health and wellbeing services provider, said the coronavirus pandemic has not just been a physical health crisis; it also triggered a mental health crisis.

The report suggested roles employers could play in restoring the mental health of the workforce by normalising anxiety, creating a caring culture, and catching people before they fall.

The report explained that anxiety levels have soared since the lockdown, whereby working parents have suffered stress and exhaustion while juggling work and homeschooling; with many of those who had to fight for their lives in the hospital now at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Managing Director of PAM Group, Louise Abbs, in the report said many people are worried about losing their jobs, and those who could not be with a loved one while they passed away are not only suffering bereavement but may also be traumatised by the experience.

Data released by Mental Health Charity Mind, highlighted the devastating impact of the pandemic on mental health.

The report found that one in five adults (22 per cent) who had no previous experience of mental health problems now say their mental health is now ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’, and two-thirds (65 per cent) of people who had a pre-existing mental health problem say it has become worse during the crisis.

The report explained that an extra half a million people now urgently need mental health support at a time when already long waiting times have increased further.

Abbs noted that the number of women seeking help for domestic abuse has increased by 50 per cent and divorces are set to soar, with the strain of living in close proximity causing many relationships to fail.

In assisting to restore workers’ wellbeing, Abbs, who said employers needed to reassure workers it is ok to feel anxious at this time and educate them how to recognise and manage the symptoms, suggested tactics such as group workshops, mindfulness and physical exercise, which have been proven to be effective at reducing anxiety levels.

He said everyone would also benefit from being educated on how to proactively manage their mental health, to boost their resilience and ability to stay healthy under pressure, by finding ways to unwind, creating a support network and focusing on positive things to normalise anxiety.

On creating a caring culture, the report said notwithstanding the employees’ benefits, which have a key role to play in making people feel cared for, the culture of the organisation and ability of managers to role-model looking after wellbeing also matters.

The report said managers must show the caring face of the organisation and humanise the workplace in a way that might have been sadly lacking until now.

The report said: “This is not about asking managers to become counsellors or advisers. It is about encouraging managers to help people acknowledge how they’re feeling so they can encourage them to use the support services already in place.

“Catching people before they fall, with the number of people experiencing domestic abuse also surging, employers should consider implementing the best practice advice in the government’s domestic abuse toolkit for employers. This includes how best to acknowledge, respond to and refer those affected.

“Another useful safety net is to train employees to be mental health first aiders, so they can provide support and guidance to those who may be struggling, before mental health issues get out of control.”

A health and safety expert, and Chief Executive Officer, Occupational Health and Safety Managers, Ehi Iden, who expressed concern over the impact of COVID-19 on a large number of healthcare workers, noted that the unprecedented figure is already putting a huge toll on caregivers.

For this period of pandemic, he said sleep is very important for health workers, and encouraged them to observe reasonable hours of sleep so they do not also make mistakes that constitute medical errors, while they are allowed to have intermittent breaks within their work schedules.

“This will help overcome any existing awkward position and ergonomics discomforts where possible, we need to keep an eye closely on these healthcare workers, we have heard of a few cases of some suicidal events. Not everyone is at the same level in adversity management; some people can get overwhelmed over what they have seen happen in the hospital and decide they cannot continue with life. So we need to look out for these. Having supporting mental health counsellors will be ideal,” he said.


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