As the pandemic has become increasingly drawn out, multiple sources are predicting a significant rise in mental health problems. This is set to have a major impact on businesses. Those who are unprepared will be most affected. Here we provide some tips on how to support staff through the mental health impact of Covid.
The mental health impact of Covid
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2020, depression and anxiety were expected to rise as a result of the Covid pandemic. Reports suggesting an increase in alcohol consumption, gambling and other addictions during this time were also of major concern. As a result, a substantial investment aimed at averting the mental health crisis was called for.
In a news release, the Director-General of WHO cited a number of reasons for the predicted increase in mental distress. These included “Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members…. compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”
Research on the mental health impact of Covid
Research in the UK following 2025 men and women through the Covid pandemic from March 2020 partly supported this prediction. Published in January 2021, the research showed an initial increase in anxiety and depression at the start of the pandemic. However, this was not a huge increase and in general was not maintained. Importantly, it found that around 30% of people taking part in the study experienced ongoing anxiety and depression.
People with prior experience of mental health problems and those experiencing economic hardship were the worst affected. In addition, social isolation and loneliness during the pandemic contributed to worse mental health. And people with young children were also badly affected.
Interestingly, this study also found a large proportion of people did not experience a detrimental impact of the pandemic. For example, it identified that 56.5% participants remained resilient. These individuals did not experience any mental health impact of Covid during the course of the study. Furthermore, 8% participants actually reported an improvement in their mental health. This group tended to be unaffected by the stressors identified above. They also generally had a more positive outlook, with beliefs about the world as a fundamentally good place.
In some ways, these figures are reassuring as they indicate a large proportion of adults in the UK are managing ok. However, the knowledge that nearly a third of working age adults may be struggling raises an alarm bell that workplaces can’t afford to ignore.
How to support staff mental health through Covid
Traditionally, support for mental health and wellbeing in the workplace has tended to take a wholesale approach. However, data from the study discussed above highlights that people struggling with their mental health are not a homogenous group. Individual differences in precipitating and maintaining factors mean that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to support is unlikely to be the most effective. These individual differences may make it hard to ask for help or to feel that anybody else understands. Furthermore, individuals may struggle with stigma or feel fearful of being judged . They may also worry about other potential negative consequences of admitting to the difficulties they are having.
This means a more individualised approach is needed. Here are some suggestions for how to support staff through the mental health impact of Covid. These involve taking a more personalised approach to support.
Staff wellbeing plan
Since mental health difficulties can make it hard for people to reach out, workplaces need to be proactive in offering support. Putting in place a staff wellbeing plan that supports mental health across the whole staff group is a great place to start. Using tiered approach to staff wellbeing ensures that the full range of needs can be accommodated right across the organisation. It is fundamental to making mental health support in the workplace personal. This might firstly involve providing general information and resources that are accessible to everyone. A second tier would offer specific training in resilience and wellbeing skills and strategies. A third more intensive tier, for those struggling most, might include specialist-led interventions, such as one-to-one resilience coaching or support.
Mental health & wellbeing resources
Providing a range of resources that staff can access easily is important. Individual staff members will find different tools and topics useful at different times. Resources might include factsheets or online materials, staff support meetings, lunchtime mindfulness sessions, book clubs or breakfast meet-ups.
Using a variety of formats will be helpful in accommodating a range of learning styles. Try including blogs, podcasts, videos, text documents and links to more interactive formats such as apps or websites.
Resources should include information on common mental health problems, practical tips on how to manage and when to seek professional help, and signposting to local services.
Encouraging open talk about mental health
Encouraging staff to talk openly about mental health is a first step to destigmatising it. This might simply involve sharing information about mental health, typical triggers for difficulties and how staff can recognise when they are struggling
Acknowledging the ongoing uncertainty everyone is facing and the stress this can cause opens the conversation about mental health. Regular wellbeing check-ins can provide a space for these conversations. Just asking about how staff members are feeling and listening to what they have to say can make all the difference. And remember, it can be easy to accept “I’m fine” as the whole truth. It may not be.
Encourage self-care behaviours
Self-care is essential for mental wellbeing but often overlooked at work. Try to:
- Encourage staff to take regular breaks
- Support people to manage time and work tasks by prioritising and setting reasonable targets
- Create opportunities for social connection and support between staff members
- Offer workplace wellbeing initiatives. These may be aimed at increasing mental health awareness or offering strategies for managing stress symptoms
Support healthy homeworking practices
Encourage staff to set clear boundaries around work so that space and time for family and hobbies is protected. Remember, recovery time is important for mental health. People who prioritise time out for self-care and recovery are better able to calm their stress response. They are able recharge and return to work with more motivation and enthusiasm.
Ensure managers are equipped to offer support
It’s not always easy to talk about mental health. Managers who are trained in emotional and social intelligence skills will be much more attuned to the wellbeing needs of their staff. By creating space for conversations about mental health, these managers create a sense of trust and safety among staff. This facilitates honest discussion. It builds positive relationships. And creates a sense of openness that will encourage open talk about mental health.
Personalisation of mental health support
Improvements in technology make it possible to reach people at an earlier stage and to target their specific needs.
Digital tools such as mental health or resilience apps can help staff members to increase their self-awareness. By understanding fluctuations in their mood, thoughts and feelings they are able to identify problems much earlier.
This information will help staff members to develop their own personalised wellbeing plan. This plan might include the specific support they need from their employer. It might also identify the skills and strategies they can use in work and at home to manage stress or other difficulties. And the plan will provide information on services and support agencies who can provide more specialist help.
Remember, the full mental health fallout of Covid remains unknown. With ongoing uncertainty, change and challenge there is likelihood of increased levels of mental distress amongst staff. Organisations who are ahead of the curve, who know how to support staff through the mental health impact of Covid will see benefits across the board.