Newsmaker of the month: The looming mental health crisis
As the world continues to tackle the global pandemic, there’s been a sharp rise in mental health issues. Prolonged home isolation coupled with a fear of contracting the virus is already creating adverse consequences to the well-being of employees working from home.
With a rise in the loss of pay and unemployment and lack of resources to support the scale of the mental health crisis, a number of people are at risk of clinical depression, anxiety, and suicide. In India, the conversations on mental health had renewed attention as a leading actor in Bollywood, Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide.
Apart from frontline health care workers faced with heavy workloads, children, adolescents, working women – who are juggling work and home responsibilities, older persons, and those with existing mental health conditions are high-risk groups that businesses have to pay close attention to. The World Health Organization has highlighted the need to substantially increase investments in mental health to avert a spike in cases. The Indian Psychiatry Society reported that the number of cases increased by over 20 percent. Elsewhere in Asia, the trend is the same – from Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines there’s a steady rise in mental health-related cases. Given the disruptions caused by COVID-19, several countries are lifting the lockdown so that their economies and jobs are not adversely affected, despite the risk to containment efforts.
There are a number of steps that need to be taken to address the crisis at hand. NIMHAS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences) in India has called for a dedicated mental health support network, helpline numbers, paid leave especially for those under quarantine or in isolation.
Companies also need to support employees who are experiencing distress by connecting them with healthcare practitioners. Given the prolonged nature of battling the global pandemic, more employees are likely to feel fatigued as they feel pressured to be responsive online all the time. HR leaders need to think creatively about emerging problems that are likely to impact their workforce – including online classes for the children of their employees, the arbitrary nature of lockdown announcements, and work-related fatigue.
Creating support systems to help employees while also giving opportunities to employees to recharge is critical. Some companies are instituting no-call Mondays, still, others are restricting the time within which employees are required to be on call. There’s a critical role for the HR function to drive an engaged, productive workforce while also being supportive of employee concerns almost real-time.