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Tackling mental health concerns while working during lockdown

Published: 

Mon 9 November, 2020

Mental Health

A lockdown-related mental health crisis is likely to have serious consequences for employers and work will be needed to combat it.

It is feared that restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) will have a detrimental impact on the mental health of some employees.

Staff being on furlough, feeling isolated working from home, lack of face-to-face interaction with colleagues and constant fears about job security can impact negatively on the mental health of any individual.

Prior to the pandemic, mental health absences was the most stated cause for long-term sickness absences in UK workplaces.

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that in 2019/20 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51 per cent of all work-related ill health and 55 per cent of all days lost due to work-related ill-health. (1)

More recently, the mental health charity Mind conducted a study titled: The mental health emergency: how has the coronavirus pandemic impacted our mental health (2)

Researchers quizzed 14,421 people and found more than half of the adults (60 per cent) and over two thirds of young people (68 per cent) said their mental health got worse during lockdown.

The study also found that people with experience of mental health problems are more likely to see their mental health worsen as a result of coronavirus restrictions.

It also revealed that many people without previous experience of mental health problems have experienced poor mental health during lockdown and have seen their mental health and wellbeing decline.

Employees suffering poor mental health can be a difficult issue for employers to have to deal with – but it is a matter that should not be ignored.

Basic steps that an employer can consider implementing to support employees can include:

  • Inform managers of the possible mental health implications of Covid-19 and emphasise the importance of their role and responsibilities in relation to supporting staff.
  • Regular communication on wellbeing and mental health support.
  • Provide mental health awareness-raising activities – work to create a culture in which individuals are comfortable to talk about and seek support for poor mental health.

Where signs of poor mental health are identified an employer should talk to the employee, assure them any conversation is confidential and seek to provide any necessary support.

Mental health can be complex and it is prudent for an employer to seek expert advice on how to deal with any identified instances of poor mental health. Where professional advice is required a referral can be made to occupational health (3). Occupational health focuses on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace

Such support can be vital, especially as some mental health conditions can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (4).

Employers should adopt a range of measures to provide support for employees. This is vitally important at a time when the England has just entered a second national lockdown.

All employers have a general duty to look after the welfare of employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (5) and to assess and manage risk to their staff under Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (6)

ACAS state: “Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which means that they should take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing."

“Demonstrating concern for the physical and mental health of your workers shouldn't just be seen as a legal duty - there's a clear business case, too."

“It can be a key factor in building trust and reinforcing your commitment to your employees, and can help improve staff retention, boost productivity and pave the way for greater employee engagement” (7)

ACAS has produced guidance for employees and employers regarding mental health in the current climate (8)

References:

(1) 55 per cent of all days lost due to work-related ill-health [Internet] www.hse.gov.uk [Cited 09/11/2020] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf

(2) ‘The mental health emergency: how has the coronavirus pandemic impacted our mental health’ [Internet] www.mind.org.uk [Cited 09/11/2020] https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/5929/the-mental-health-emergency_a4_final.pdf

(3) Where professional advice is required a referral can be made to occupational health. [Internet] www.nhshealthatwork.co.uk [Cited 09/11/2020] https://www.nhshealthatwork.co.uk/what-is-oh.asp

(4) Some mental health conditions can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 [Internet] www.gov.uk [Cited 09/11/2020] https://www.gov.uk/definition-of-disability-under-equality-act-2010

(5) Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 [Internet] www.legislation.gov.uk [Cited 09/11/2020] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37/contents

(6) Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 [Internet] www.legislation.gov.uk [Cited 09/11/2020] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/3242/contents/made

(7) Building trust and reinforcing your commitment.[Internet] archive.acas.org.uk [Cited 09/11/2020] https://archive.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3751

(8) ACAS has produced guidance regarding mental health [Internet] www.acas.org.uk [Cited 09/11/2020] https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus-mental-health

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