Employers face wall of mental health problems

Doctors are becoming increasingly concerned about the growing wall of mental health problems stemming from the pandemic, with some predicting dire consequences for employers and the economy.

Whilst many have again returned to home working or have social distancing in place, many employers are not aware that the responsibility for managing work-related mental health issues amongst their employees rests firmly on their shoulders.

Dr Greg Irons MBChB MFOM, an occupational health specialist practising in London said, “We’re seeing an increased number of individuals who are troubled with mental health issues arising from the pandemic.

“The ongoing situation in the UK is not only impacting those with pre-existing mental health conditions, but also affecting people who may previously have felt they were quite resilient, and this can manifest itself in the workplace.”

Specialists across the country have also expressed concerns about the impacts on workers’ mental health.

Dr Beverley Flint, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Commercial Director at HelloSelf For Business said, “the need for people to work from home during the initial lockdown was met with trepidation by many. The routine and connection that going into work provide were essential for some people’s mental health, for their sense of belonging.”

Many employees were faced with the challenges of homeschooling whilst continuing to work. This has been a great source of distress for many adults and children alike. The uncertainty that the pandemic has brought has increased the prevalence of mental health difficulties, often exacerbated by financial hardships.

Mind, the mental health charity, says that at least one in six workers experience common mental health problems including anxiety and depression. Their research shows that work is the biggest cause of stress in people's lives, more so than debt or financial problems. The pandemic has increased these pressures dramatically.

Dr Flint said, “the flip-side of this is that some employees have thrived whilst being enabled to work from home, finding a work-life balance that suits them far better. Many are reporting feeling a great sense of loss if their employer is insisting that they return to the workplace, with some making the decision to resign.

“All of these stressors are not only exacerbating pre-existing mental health conditions, but they are triggering new presentations employers need to consider the increase in mental health difficulties that we are seeing across all ages and circumstances.”

There is a great deal that employers can do to protect the health of their employees, from enabling flexibility to providing access to professional support. Organisations that do not prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce will not only struggle to retain their talent but may face great difficulty attracting it.

The Society of Occupational Medicine has called for swift action to provide universal access to occupational health across the UK, stressing that only half of the UK’s population have access to workplace health support.

Magnus Kauders, Managing Director of Occupational Health Assessment Limited, an occupational health provider added, “We’re used to employers finding managing health at work difficult although the complexity of managing stress, anxiety or depression can be really difficult for everyone. Fortunately, most people do recover with the right support in place.”

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