Coronavirus and Mental Health Awareness in Your Workplace

March 17, 2020

Mental health awareness is always important. Here are some additional things to remember for your workplace during the coronavirus epidemic.

3D image of a brain with red plus signs floating around.

I’m what many people would call an optimist.  For example, I wake up in a good mood, despite waking up at 5:00 a.m. during the workweek.  In fact, I’m already chipper before I’ve even had my first cup of coffee, which sometimes isn’t until 10:30 in the morning!  Under normal circumstances, my mental health feels pretty solid.  However, the coronavirus outbreak has been anything but normal. Consequently, my mental health has also taken a hit.  

So, if you are feeling a little out of sorts, know that you are not alone.  Thus, here is some information about mental health awareness, and how the coronavirus outbreak may be affecting your state of mind.  Furthermore, remember that your employees also bring their mental health to work.  Therefore, whether your employees are still reporting to the office or working from home, this information applies to everyone.

What is mental health awareness?

Each year in the month of May, the U.S. encourages mental health awareness in order to educate the public about mental illness.  Mental Health America is the organization responsible for providing resources for Americans, which help clarify mental health questions. In order to educate and raise awareness, Mental Health America assigns a theme each year. After that, they distributes toolkits for discussions prior to outreach.  All of this is in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues.

Considering the toolkits typically go out mid-March, it seems timely with the coronavirus epidemic, as some people are beginning to feel a bit of panic during these uncertain times.  So, mental health awareness is clearly more important in these days than it ever has been.  Those who are ill or at a higher risk of death due to exposure to the virus remain the number one priority. However, we need to remain considerate of everyone’s mental health.

What are some common mental health issues?

Now, many of us are thinking about our own “normal” mental health during the coronavirus outbreak.  However, we need to be mindful of others who may be under more duress than we are.  Specifically, those who struggle with severe mental disorders that the upheaval caused by the coronavirus epidemic can potentially exacerbate.  Some of these disorders include the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Clinical Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Notably, these disorders are severe, can be debilitating, and often require ongoing therapy for treatment.  Many employers have workers who suffer from these mental illnesses, but they might not know it.  Therefore, it is important to be mindful of this when considering the course of action for coronavirus issues.

Related:  Vaccination Incentives: Getting Stuck and Getting Out

How does coronavirus affect mental health awareness?

Still, that list of mental disorders is far from complete. There are many other debilitating issues that affect a large portion of the U.S. population.  For example, people who struggle with addiction, or who may be involved in a smoking cessation program could experience setbacks during this time.

Social distancing, although necessary in reducing the spread of coronavirus, also creates its own set of issues.  For example, people who struggle with these types of disorders might need continual intervention.  However, facility closures can make it challenging for patients to get the care they need with any kind of consistency.

What are some other considerations with mental health and coronavirus?

While we can expect those with diagnosed mental illness to find these times stressful, most people will be affected, to some degree.  It is likely that people will experience feelings of loneliness, as they follow the recommendations of political leaders and health officials.  Furthermore, they may feel powerless as they try to understand the big picture, which is trying to curb the epidemic, meanwhile protecting the population’s livelihood.

Additionally, there will also be people who are fearful of interventions.  The government has called for quarantines of those who are ill, as well as voluntary and imposed isolation and shutdowns.  However, sometimes these mandates cause people to feel trapped or nervous. 

What can my company do to increase mental health awareness during the coronavirus epidemic?

Based on mental health studies after the SARS epidemic, researchers predict that the effects of the coronavirus epidemic will be long lasting.  While you, as an employer, may also feel a lack of control, there are some things you can do to help employees maintain a sense of normalcy. 

Keep Working

First of all, resume operations as normally as possible.  In other words, if your business can safely remain open, do so.  Certain companies are able to do that, knowing that their risk of exposure is low.  For those whose employees can work remotely, that is a good option at this time.  Keeping the wheels greased will help employees feel that they are moving in a forward motion.

Keep Talking

Second of all, encourage communication among employees.  Welcome employee “water cooler” conversations, as long as they are done in line with the CDC recommendations of groups gathering.  Employees need to feel like they have support and comradery from their fellow associates, so don’t try to dissuade them from interacting.

Image of birds sitting around a water fountain.
Photo by John Liu | CC by

Keep Moving

Third of all, encourage employees to get outside for sunshine, exercise, and fresh air.  Sunlight, exercise and fresh air are great ways to boost peoples’ moods.  Giving them an opportunity each day to work the bugs out can help them shake that dark cloud that could be hovering over them.

Related:  How to Revamp Employee Onboarding in a Remote World

Keep Being Available

Last of all, remind employees that you are available to them for their mental health needs.  Employees don’t want to feel like their mental struggles are irrelevant.  Know that fear and uncertainty are natural reactions to our current situation.  So, do your best to empathize with their concerns, and offer suggestions when you can.  However, if you feel their needs are beyond your help, be ready to provide resources they can access.

Why should I keep calm and carry on?

As the leader of your organization, employees will look to you and gauge your outlook on the coronavirus epidemic.  If you seem panicky, worried, or withdrawn, they will notice.  Conversely, if you have an air of confidence, optimism, and professionalism, they will recognize that.  So, first make sure that your own mental health is in check.  Then, try to foster a safe environment for your employees.  Specifically, help them feel empowered in carrying on the way they had before, but being mindful of the circumstances.  Teach them how to pivot, by being flexible and ready yourself.

No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but mental health awareness is something we should never let slip out of sight.  This is for our own good, and also for the good of every person around us.

Photo of a leader standing confidently in her workplace, with a smile on her face.

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