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Even before the term COVID-19 had entered our vocabulary, burnout, stress, and anxiety were significant issues in the workplace, and society generally. Throw the pandemic’s mental health impact into the mix, and work-related stress is likely to reach staggering levels in the coming months. Business leaders need to brace themselves for this aftershock and be prepared to meet a dramatically heightened need for support and services.
“There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will be the most psychologically toxic disaster in anyone’s lifetime,” says George Everly, who teaches disaster mental health and resilience at Johns Hopkins. “This pandemic is a disaster of uncertainty, and the greater the uncertainty surrounding a disaster, the greater the psychological casualties.”
In recognition of the mental health toll the crisis will take on us, the American Psychological Association (which typically issues an annual mental health survey) will foreseeably release a monthly report, Stress in America 2020: Stress in the Time of COVID-19.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), this compares with 46% in their 2019 Stress in America survey. That figure is similar to those seen during the Great Recession of 2008 and could climb higher if the economy is slower to re-open than some hope.
This high-stress response is both a challenge and an opportunity for business and community leaders, who must step up to fill that leadership void.
3. More than one-third of Americans have displayed clinical signs of anxiety, depression, or both since the coronavirus pandemic began. (Census Bureau)
A Pew Research Center survey earlier this month found this figure was significantly higher (55%) for those experiencing financial difficulties. Even prior to the pandemic, finances were a major source of workplace stress. As people return to work, business leaders will have to make employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns.
This same poll, conducted by the American Psychiatric Association last week, also found that a third of employees worry about retaliation or firing if they seek mental health care. Psychological safety, the freedom to authentically be yourself at work, is increasingly recognized as a key driver of engagement and innovation. In the months and years ahead, that safety must include feeling comfortable discussing mental health issues.
5. Nearly one-in-five Americans say they have had a physical reaction when thinking about the outbreak.
We have long known that stress and anxiety manifest themselves physically. Mindfulness programs that help people cultivate mind-body awareness will be more crucial than ever.
6. In a March Pew survey, 18% said they had experienced nervousness or anxiety most or all of the time during the past week.
7. Text messages to a federal disaster distress hotline increased more than 1000% last month.
The hotline, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, reported 20,000 texts last month—compared to 1,790 in April of 2019.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate rose from 15.9 million to 23.1 million in April. This sharp increase reflects the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it. Nearly 20% of people unemployed for over a year stated that they currently had or were being treated for depression at the time of the study.
One study diagnosed what the author called “Katrina brain,” a syndrome of symptoms resulting from the 2005 New Orleans hurricane. According to a CDC expert who manages hurricane response teams, mental illness and substance abuse are the primary long-term effects of such disasters. A hurricane and a pandemic are two different stressors, but we should not be surprised to see the coronavirus’s psychological toll persist for some time.
According to Pew, one-third of adults ages 18 to 29 are in the high distress group, compared with just 15% of adults 65 and older. The ideas and creativity of young workers are essential for economic innovation. Business leaders will have to devote extra care to nurturing these employees through the recovery period.
These are sobering facts, indeed. The need for psychological support and solidarity will be high for years to come. Business leaders can start by reviewing their Employee Assistance Programs to address a full range of mental health needs adequately. They can also see that managers are trained to identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness so they can be better equipped to support their employees. If your company does not have a holistic and comprehensive employee wellness program—one that includes stress management workshops and coaching—this is an opportune time to research and implement one.
Leaders who step up and embrace the challenge of creating work environments that meet these fundamental needs will set their organizations apart and have the chance to make a substantial contribution toward our collective recovery.
As an executive wellness coach and consultant, Naz empowers leaders to fulfill their highest business, personal, and social potential through mindset and behavior change.
As an executive wellness coach and consultant, Naz empowers leaders to fulfill their highest business, personal, and social potential through mindset and behavior change. Practicing a holistic approach, Naz’s wellness company, Prananaz, helps organizations improve company culture, employee engagement and well-being, as well as business outcomes. Prananaz’s programs are rooted in mindfulness, neuroscience, emotional intelligence, and positive psychology. Working at startups and Fortune 500 companies have provided Naz with a deep understanding of the challenges leaders and professionals face in high-pressure environments. She has firsthand experience working with and learning from some of the world’s greatest business leaders and wellness experts, including Steve Jobs and the Dalai Lama. Naz’s career began as the executive assistant to Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple. Jobs, her mentor, remains a wellspring of inspiration, especially regarding her forthcoming leadership wellness book, Pause. Breathe. Choose.: Become the CEO of Your Life and Well-Being. He had an early and profound influence on her belief that the ultimate wealth is well-being. In 2012, Naz founded Prananaz Inc., which provides customized, high-touch, high-tech corporate wellness solutions and delivers speaking, coaching, consulting, and training to teams and organizations of all sizes. For more information, visit www.prananaz.com and www.nazbeheshti.com.
Mental health, Coronavirus
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