Across the world and before the pandemic, "one billion people lived with a mental health issue" (Melimopoulos, 2021). In 2016, roughly 1 in 5 adults in the US experienced a form of mental illness (CDC, 2019). To improve our well-being, taking care of our mental health is equally as important as taking care of our physical health.
Mental health ultimately “affects how we think, feel, and act” (CDC, 2021).
Mental health during the pandemic
During this pandemic, lockdowns and quarantines are nothing new. For many, the restrictions of lockdowns and quarantines have led to depression, fear, insomnia and anger. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) indicates that roughly 80% of Ontario residents “believe we’ll be in a serious mental health crisis post-pandemic” (CMHA, 2021). According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll, roughly 50% of Americans indicate that the pandemic is causing harm to their mental health (Wan, 2020).
During the pandemic, roughly more than 20% of healthcare workers have experienced either depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (Marples, 2021). Essential workers, like home care workers, are at a greater risk of poor mental health because they cannot work from home and risk exposing the virus to their loved ones.
What causes poor mental health in home care workers?
During this pandemic, many frontline workers have been experiencing anxiety and burnout. Many worry and fear that they will catch the virus and expose their loved ones to it. Many home care workers help their patients run errands, like the grocery stores or pharmacies and often take public transportation to get to their patient’s home, which all increases the chance of catching the virus. Additionally, they accompany their patients to their medical visits, which increases the risk of these workers catching the virus either from the public or their patients. Home care workers often work very closely with their patients, such as helping them bathe, prepare their meals, and clean around their homes. They are the ones who are unable to social distance and risk exposure to germs.
When healthcare workers lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), it can lead to burnout. Home care workers during the pandemic were needed for essential work, yet they received limited PPE. Home care workers sit low on the federal priority list for PPE, like N95 masks and “among those who get PPE, many say it’s nowhere near enough.” (Luthra, 2020).
There is a correlation between anxiety and PPE. The Healthcare Worker Pandemic Experience survey conducted in April illustrates that “those reporting none of their PPE needs were met were the most anxious, with 65 per cent reporting anxiety levels higher than the cut-off score of 3” (Institute for Work & Health, 2020). When there is adequate PPE and infection control, it can improve the mental health of healthcare workers.
How to improve your mental health?
When an individual improves their mental health, it can positively impact their physical health. Simple tips that help improve our mental health include, but are not limited to:
Having a proper diet/eating well-balanced meals
Getting adequate sleep
Finding time for those you love and for yourself
Talking to your co-workers and supervisors consistently
Why is it important to address mental health in the workplace?
For employers, the well-being of their employees is critical. When employees have poor mental health, their productivity, performance, engagement with their work, and communication with their co-workers are negatively impacted. For instance, when employees feel burnout, more than often, the quality of care provided decreases, and there is an increase in the risk of patient incidents.
A statistic illustrates that depression is predicted “to cost $44 billion a year in lost productivity in the U.S. alone” (DeTienne et al., 2020). A study led by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates “that for every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity” (World Health Organization).
What contributes to the employee's overall productivity and well-being is mental wellness (Horch, 2020). According to a Monster survey conducted in the US with 1,000 full-time and part-time employees, it illustrates that 24% of them have experienced depression, and 34% of them revealed that their job harmed their mental health (Gross). The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) survey indicates that the main parts of a job affected by anxiety and depression were workplace performance, relationships at the office, and their quality of work (Gross). Roughly 62% of missed work is because of mental health conditions (Gross).
How we can help
Approximately 95% of the time, when employees call in sick, they lie and say it is a physical issue rather than a mental health issue because they are afraid of discrimination and stigma (Wentzell, 2021).
Some steps for employers to help improve the mental health of their employees is to provide managers & supervisors with training that helps them to catch signs of depression or stress among their team and encourage them to get help. Additionally, allowing employees to be a part of the decision-making process that affects their job stress can improve the mental health of employees. Hosting workshops that help provide tips to address stress management can improve employees' mental health. Another is to conduct anonymous surveys that allow employers to gain insight into the employee’s attitudes and thoughts towards their managers and their company.
Roughly 50% of employees don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health issues (Beheshti, 2020).
A study in 2019 by Businesssolver indicated that 68% of employees “worry that reaching out about a mental health issue could negatively impact their job security” (Horch 2020).
One way to increase employee engagement is to allow employees to be truly themselves in the workplace and provide them with a sense of psychological safety. When employees and employers have a good relationship, that particular employee would be empowered to tell their employer about their mental health problem.