Unfortunately, as a consequence of the work-from-home, shelter-in-place and quarantine initiatives put in place to keep us safe from COVID-19, there has been a rise in emotional distress.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 56 percent of Americans reported that worry or stress has led to at least one negative mental health effect. These effects include trouble with:
• Drinking more alcohol
• Frequent headaches or stomachaches
• Shorter tempers
• Other health problems
In addition, the Well Being Trust, a national foundation dedicated to advancing the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation, believes the pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional “deaths of despair” from drug and alcohol misuse and suicide due to unemployment, social isolation and fears about the virus.
Employers who offer health plans and have access to workplace wellness programs may be in a good position to address many of these problems. They already have communication structures in place and usually a team that could coordinate the programs. They can also offer incentives to reinforce healthy behaviors.
Plus, addressing mental health issues in the workplace pays employers dividends by having happier, more productive employees, and reducing health care costs for themselves and their employees.
Here are few things health experts say can exert a positive effect on employees’ mental health.
First, employers should reinforce the value of the benefits they already provide. Highlight the company’s employer-sponsored health plan by distributing informative material such as pamphlets about specific services, sending emails and holding workshops.
For instance, if your plan has access to telehealth or remote nurse line counseling, remind employees how to register. Explain that telehealth is not just for medical questions, but for mental health counseling, too.
Discuss whether your plan covers the costs for COVID-19 testing and treatment. Also explain coverage for seeking routine care, chronic illness and urgent care.
If you have employees who are not on your plan, share with them information about accessing public COVID-19 testing and treatment or mental health counseling.
Seminars or workshops that address depression and stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, breathing exercises and meditation can help employees reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus and motivation. If you have mental health self-assessment tools, make them available to all employees.
Supervisors are often the ones employees come to when they do not know how to cope. They can usually tell when employees are stressed anyway. Therefore, provide these people with training to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of stress.
Supervisors should understand what Human Resources can provide so they can direct employees to the proper resources. They also need the authority and flexibility to give employees permission to take mental health breaks, take walks and practice other acts of self-care.
Supervisors should be encouraged to be good listeners and stay alert to the challenges employees are facing.
Employee Assistance Programs
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees with personal or work-related problems. These problems can include substance abuse, emotional distress, or occupational distress. Assistance is free.
If you don’t have an EAP for your employees, please contact us. We will help you work with providers and determine which services best serve your needs.