Health and Wellness, Personnel Safety

Staying Connected for Mental Health Support and Suicide Prevention: Practical Steps to Help Employees During the Pandemic

While the world reels over the coronavirus pandemic, an inner battle is also underway. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that anxiety and depression have increased significantly during April and June of 2020 compared with the same time period last year.

Suicide prevention

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The CDC survey offers more details about what is happening during these turbulent times:

  • Two out of five people are suffering from mental or behavioral health problems.
  • One out of four people have increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.
  • One out of 10 people seriously considered suicide during the past month.

The Lancet also reports the pandemic is having adverse effects on the public’s mental health because of the fear, self-isolation, and physical distancing. “These are unprecedented times. The pandemic will cause distress and leave many people vulnerable to mental health problems and suicidal behaviour.” The respected medical journal encourages using research-based strategies for suicide prevention.

Employers usually focus on physical safety, but these findings are an exclamation point on why it is equally important to protect the mental health of their employees. September is Suicide Prevention Month, and now perhaps more than ever, it is a good time for managers to consider ways to help employees during this time of isolation and social distancing.

The white paper Social Distancing: The Importance of Staying Connected offers six ways to help employees stay connected:

  1. Present practical information. Not knowing is worse than knowing. Provide clear information from the top about policies and changes.
  2. Use instant messaging. Chat software is especially important to communicate throughout the day to discuss work, brainstorm ideas, and stay connected during the workday.
  3. Leverage videoconferencing. These video meetings are more important for connecting because employees can see each other’s expressions and are the closest thing to face-to-face meetings.
  4. Support each other. This is a time to provide peer support to help with stress and anxiety, even if we need technology to make it happen.
  5. Remind employees that we do more than work. Set up support networks with videoconferences during lunch or coffee breaks for employees to chat, laugh, or have conversations they would normally have at work.
  6. Speak up if you’re struggling. Have frank conversations with your employees to find out if they are feeling isolated or overwhelmed.

Keep in mind you may need to provide more mental health care for your employees at this time, but any additional costs will be worth it. The World Economic Forum found a $1 investment in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work. “We know that treatment of depression and anxiety makes good sense for health and wellbeing; this new study confirms that it makes sound economic sense too,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Offering help makes economic sense because it can make a huge difference in your business. Poor mental health causes lost productivity, additional sick days, and higher staff turnover. Sleeplessness caused by stress can also lead to more injuries and accidents in heavy industries.

Mental Health America offers additional resources on how to help workers during the pandemic. If you or an employee needs immediate help, call 911 or a local hospital. A 24-hour crisis center is available at 800-273-8255.

Most people have been impacted by suicide in one way or another. Whether an organization is large or small, it is possible to plan, raise awareness, and provide a hopeful environment where people can get help. You can make a big difference. For the sake of your employees and business, I encourage you to start now.

Richard ParkeRichard Parke is SVP of Supplier Services at Avetta, a global leader in supply chain risk management tools. Parke oversees registration, onboarding, compliance, customer support, and supplier retention. He and his team also develop and deliver new product and service offerings designed to create enhanced value. Parke holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Regis University in Denver, Colorado.

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