Covid-19 has accelerated a greater awareness of mental health. The challenges associated with prolonged periods of isolation, lack of socialisation and uncertainty about the future have affected a large portion of the population. As a result, the need for mental health supports has never been greater. Negative mental health can manifest itself in various forms, with stress, anxiety and depression among the most common issues. And it can affect anyone, at any time.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to providing support for mental fitness as no single support will address everyone’s needs. Providing a strong mix of online and in-person services as well as different types of support is vital. This may include digital team get-togethers, counselling services, extra time off, classes or even training for employees to become mental health first aiders. However, as some employees may prefer not to speak to their employer about these issues, there also needs to be a focus on initiatives which are based more around personal relationships, for example, encouraging staff to check in regularly with their work friends and watch out for each other.
Many organisations already offer access to employee assistance programmes (EAPs), but from our experience there has been a very low uptake of EAP services like counselling during the pandemic. So, there’s clearly work to do in terms of educating staff and making them aware of the supports available to them, the life scenarios each type of support caters for and how they can access them. Confidentiality and anonymity need to be emphasised so that people feel safe picking up the phone.
A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. The WHO also found there’s nearly four times the return on investment when it comes to money spent on supporting mental fitness. While some companies have been stepping up their support for staff, it’s clear that more needs to be done.
Mental fitness support needs to be prioritised as part of an integrated health and well-being approach in the workplace that incorporates prevention, early identification, support, and recuperation.
Companies in the UAE are ahead of the pack when it comes to providing access to mental health services for their staff, with employers there focused on providing a strong variety of resources, to address the wide range of needs among any given workforce. This approach really seems to be working, as 72 per cent of employees in the UAE reported feeling their mental health is supported by their employer, according to global research we recently partnered with Ipsos MRBI on. This is backed up by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ‘Future of Work’ reportwhich showed 77 per cent of UAE workers felt sufficiently supported by their employer regarding their mental fitness.
The UK is lagging behind on both studies, with 57 per cent of UK-based employees saying they feel their mental health is supported by their employers in the Ipsos research, and 64 per cent feeling sufficiently supported according to the EIU report.
Overall, when questioned about worries during the pandemic, mental health came out on top for those based in the UK, while those working in the UAE were more worried about job security. So, while the UAE are leading the charge on delivering strong mental health supports to staff, it’s the employees based in the UK who may be in greater need of them right now.
In general, there’s an increased awareness of mental health following the pandemic but a disconnect when it comes to using support services.
There’s an opportunity for employers to address this gap by offering meaningful education and support which is easily accessible. By doing this, employers can add real value to their employees’ lives and contribute to a society that is more open when it comes to discussing mental as well as physical fitness and wellbeing. If there’s a single takeaway from the last two years, it’s that we don’t know what the future holds, but we can control how we listen to, interact with, and support one another during ‘normal’ times and in the face of adversity. Covid-19 has changed how we work and live our lives. Support for mental fitness and the way we encourage uptake needs to change accordingly.