2020 will go down in history as a time where uncertainty collided with dramatic changes to our home lives and work environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has also created opportunities for organisations to address not only their employee’s work health and safety but their emotional well-being as well. On the surface, the need for a mental health strategy may seem obvious, but dig a little deeper and you may be surprised at how a comprehensive program can affect the mental health of your employees and their families.
One of the first questions researchers must answer when faced with a novel virus is, “How is the disease transmitted?” Information regarding how COVID-19 is spread is being discovered and disseminated at a rapid rate. What most people don’t consider is the emotional contagion that is often associated with a global pandemic.
People can contract emotions like happiness, depression, and anxiety from other people the same way a virus is spread from person to person. In the case of the current pandemic, emotional contagion has spread anxiety and fear, resulting in panic and hoarding. It has also caused the indirect spread of emotions through social media interactions that may reflect a person’s personal views on the way the pandemic is being handled worldwide. In a study by Coviello, et al. (2014) participants’ emotions were directly related to what others in their Facebook network were posting. The results of the study indicated that emotions could actually reach across social networks and create large pockets of unhappy people. Since the majority of our social interactions are currently happening through these networks and not face-to-face, social media usage has led to increased panic and fear.
Emotional contagion can also be felt within organisations in times of economic uncertainty. Widespread organisational shutdowns coupled with layoffs and reduced staffing have caused negative emotions to ripple through organisations. In the absence of a strong, proactive message from key leaders, employees will make up their own narrative, often with negative connotations.
Suicide Risk & COVID-19
One of the biggest risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in the rates of suicide. A joint statement released by the Australian Medical Association in May 2020 suggested that COVID-19 could lead to an increase in the rates of mental illness and suicide among Australians. Models suggest up to a 25 percent increase in suicide rates, especially among younger people. What’s more, should the economic downturn continue for another 12 months, those rates could persist for 5 years. What is driving these rates? Increased isolation, greater levels of uncertainty, and higher stress levels.
The National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan released in May 2020 included preliminary mental health data showing crisis organisations and suicide prevention services had experienced higher demand since the start of the virus. Greater incidences of substance abuse, higher levels of economic and personal uncertainty, and a growing mental health crisis were all cited as reasons for the surge.
How Should Organisations Respond?
With a growing need to manage emotional contagion and mitigate suicide risk, organisations must address mental health as well as the physical health of their employees. With a growing number of the country’s workforce going entirely digital, the ability to implement such a program is limited. That is why Aspect Group offers an engaging online program aimed at improving morale and productivity called “Managing Stress in Times of Uncertainty.” Developed by psychologists and backed by research, each program is made up of micro-learning modules aimed at:
Your employees gain practical tools needed to manage their mental health while managers receive guidance for how to facilitate better mental health across the board. Our psychologists also offer support to help managers and leaders respond strategically to at-risk situations. To find out how Aspect Group can help you create and implement an effective mental health strategy, contact us here.