Long before medical experts around the world had even heard of COVID-19, we were experiencing a global mental health crisis. I have been speaking about this crisis to anyone that would listen, for the last 2 years.
Before the pandemic, mental ill health was the biggest public health concern of our time – between 250 and 300 million people globally struggle with depression.
“Mental health and behavioural problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and substance misuse) are the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20 to 29-year-olds.” - Mental Health Foundation, 2020.
Millions of us have suddenly found ourselves living and working in isolation; many of us are facing huge financial strain; front line health professionals are working in conditions generally only experienced during war-time, and those with existing mental health conditions face an even greater struggle to access the support that they need.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting and profound effect on mental health globally - the mental health effects of the pandemic could exceed the consequences of COVID-19 itself.
Just as we’ve had to take urgent steps to stop the spread of the virus, we need to take urgent action to safeguard our mental health, too. As business owners and leaders we MUST take action now to safeguard the mental wellbeing of the people that work for us.
An article published in The Lancet in April 2020, explores the psychological and social effects of COVID-19:
“It is already evident that the direct and indirect psychological and social effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic are pervasive and could affect mental health now and in the future. The pandemic is occurring against the backdrop of increased prevalence of mental health issues in the UK in recent years” - www.thelancet.com/psychiatry Published online April 15, 2020
We don’t yet know how the pandemic will magnify the mental health crisis but there are signs that it is already having a significant impact.
A study commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, in partnership with the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge was carried out on March 17th-18th, in a relatively early stage of the crisis; and found that millions of UK adults already felt panicked, afraid and unprepared because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mental Health Foundation Director of Research Dr Antonis Kousoulis said:
“This poll was carried out before full lockdown was introduced. Even then, there were clear indications that the pandemic was beginning to have a significant impact on the nation’s mental health. The concern is that the longer these levels of mental health problems continue, the worse they become for many people.
That is why it is incredibly important that we act now. There are many things we can do, individually and collectively, to tackle and prevent mental health problems, with much help and advice available.”
What are the things that we should be doing now, as individuals and as businesses, to mitigate the damage to our collective mental health and wellbeing?
In April 2020, MQ: Transforming mental health, with the Academy of Medical Sciences; carried out two surveys of more than 3000 people, many with lived experience of mental health problems – to find out what mental health concerns people have as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The top results are unsurprising and give us a clear picture of the key areas that we should be focusing on:
- Becoming mentally unwell
- Accessing mental health support/services
- Family and relationships
As individuals, having awareness on these key areas during the crisis, and understanding how we can manage concerns and access information and support is key to maintaining good levels of mental wellness.
As business owners and leaders, creating a culture in which it is accepted – and indeed normal to discuss mental wellbeing; and where there are regular information sessions, training, easy access to resources, and support is absolutely essential to ensure that our people remain emotionally well through these extraordinary times.
The good news is that for many businesses, before this pandemic, the conversation about mental health was already happening. The important thing is to ensure that it continues and that we turn the volume up.
For more information or guidance please contact me.
Founder and CEO – MHIB.