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Mental Health and the workplace

May 10, 2022

Mental Health Week continues and  Nisha Malhotra, Senior Human Resources Manager at G&L Scientific, delves into the wellbeing trends that could shape the post-pandemic workplace.

Nisha Malhotra, Senior Human Resources Manager at G&L Scientific, delves into the wellbeing trends that could shape the post-pandemic workplace.

While COVID cases appear to be retreating, mental health and the many issues, conditions and challenges associated with it are clearly on the rise.

According to research printed in The Lancet, cases of depression and anxiety increased globally by more than 25 per cent over the last two years.

In the UK alone, the Office of National Statistics reported that the number of adults experiencing some form of depression increased from 10% before the pandemic to 21% in early 2021.

Meanwhile, a study by Mind revealed 65 per cent of 10,000 UK adults surveyed said their mental health had got worse since the first lockdown, with 26% saying they had experienced mental distress for the first time.

A similar picture is emerging in the United States. A poll by All Points North found those questioned have confronted escalating mental health issues since the onset of the pandemic, with 36.7 per cent experiencing more anxiety, 32.5 per cent suffering more panic attacks, and 27 per cent noting an increase in depression.

The situation in India may well be even more serious.

The country was already coping with some of the world’s highest rates of poor mental health, compounded by historic low healthcare spending, and this situation has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

A 2017 study by The Lancet revealed that, out of a population of 1.3 billion, over 197 million people in India had a diagnosed mental disorder. This included 45.7 million people with depressive disorders and 44.9 million with anxiety disorders. India also has the highest suicide rate in the world, with an estimated 381 related deaths daily.

Last year, The Lancet published a further report which estimated a 35 per cent increase in mental health problems in India, while a UNICEF survey found that nearly 14 per cent of adolescents reported feeling depressed.

Meanwhile, the Indian government’s report on suicide showed a 10 per cent increase in 2020.

While the impact of the pandemic on mental health is likely yet to be fully felt, there is no question that it will continue to be a prominent feature of every aspect of our lives, including in the workplace.

So, what should we expect to see going forward?

  1. Increased prioritization for workplace mental wellbeing.

One of the biggest ways companies can support mental health is to encourage employees to take full advantage of their paid time off, mental health days, and social events.

We will also see a great emphasis on improved lines of communication, where colleagues will be encouraged to share with others and talk about more than just work.

Wellness programs could be another feature, with access to external healthcare providers and therapists that are available during work hours.

Some employers may even consider introducing access to benefits like therapy, meditation, yoga, and alternative forms of wellness.

  1. Compassionate leadership.

The pandemic and working from home (WFH) have ushered in a greater understanding of our colleagues and the realization that we are people first, employees second.

Employees are much more likely to get involved in every aspect of their work when management leads by example, normalizing topics related to mental health and encouraging mindfulness at work.

  1. The new normal.

WFH has provided new-found freedom to enjoy a meaningful work-life balance.

An Ergotron survey of 1,000 full-time workers found that 56 per cent of employees said their mental health, work/life balance and physical activity levels all improved because of their hybrid work environment.

In addition to this, 88 per cent said the flexibility afforded by a hybrid system has increased their job satisfaction.

Other changes include shifts towards four-day weeks and greater flexibility towards the actual hours of work.

  1. Healthy lifestyles.

Weight gain during the pandemic has been a common complaint. A survey by Gelesis revealed 71 per cent of those interviewed put on some extra pounds and, in doing so, recorded a shift in mood, with 52 per cent saying they felt down because of their looks.

However, as the pandemic clouds clear, there is a growing desire for change, with the same survey noting 61 per cent were determined to develop healthy habits.

The connection between physical and mental health is well documented and there is a growing move by employers to introduce wellbeing programmes that combine the two, resulting in a happier, more productive workforce.

Mental health and the workplace are now inextricably linked, and this trend looks set to stay.

How employers choose to ensure they work together will be key to future success.

Related: A new world of work

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