Despite the ending of Covid restrictions in England this week, and the wider relaxing of restrictions across Britain, statistics show that a second pandemic is brewing. This second pandemic is to do with mental health. The heads of the NHS Confederation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have called for a thorough response to what they call a “second pandemic” of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and eating disorders. In some parts of the UK, specialist mental health services have been so overwhelmed by this second pandemic that they are turning away patients who are at risk of suicide, self-harm and starvation. In short, we are only just starting to deal with the considerable mental health fallout of the pandemic.
The statistics do not make for light reading – currently there are 1.6 million people waiting for specialised treatment, with a further 8 million unable to get on the waiting list despite showing symptoms of severe mental health issues. Projections are showing that in the next 3 to 5 years 10 million people in England alone will need new or additional support for their mental health. These are projections in England alone, the extent of the damage to the rest of the UK will surely add to these numbers. It is no wonder that health leaders have dubbed this the second pandemic.
It is easy to see how this has come about. The pandemic has been a traumatising event for everyone. We’re using trauma here in the broad sense – there is a spectrum of reaction to the pandemic. On the less severe end, you may have felt frustrated and annoyed by the rolling lockdowns, increased isolation and loss of normality. On the more severe end, the pandemic may have cut you off from the vital support services necessary for the maintenance of your wellbeing, exacerbating pre-existing mental health conditions or triggering issues where previously there were none. When you view this in combination with the general atmosphere of insecurity across society – it is easy to see how this second pandemic has come about.
As an employer it is important to consider what these means for your staff, and your organisation as a whole. The reported statistics above are indicative that this second pandemic will be widespread. There is a chance you will be affected, either personally or vicariously through struggling staff members. On average, UK adults spend a third of their waking lives at work, and looking after your staff during this time is a must. Effective and compassionate mental health support will not only help protect the wellbeing of employees, but keep your organisation ticking over as we move from pandemic to endemic.
What this also underscores is the need for a broader mental health strategy – whether or not you think your employees are okay. The pandemic has changed the mental health landscape across society in a very profound way, emphasising the widespread need for effective and compassionate support. An employee assistance programme, delivered by an independent third party supplier, is the perfect tool when it comes to maintaining staff wellbeing without compromising on productivity. If you have not already done so, it is up to you as an employer to take preventative and proactive action to maintain your employees’ healthy mental wellbeing. The reward for getting this right is a happier, healthier and more productive workforce, and a more successful organisation.