In response to the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials have been asking us to do something that does not come naturally to our very social species: Stay away from each other. For many people, their experience of workplace stress, anxiety and depression are hard enough to cope with, but when the corona pandemic landed and forced people into lockdown, separating them from family, friends and their support systems for months, everyday life became way more difficult to endure.
Firstly, socialising is a fundamental human need, and “social distancing” hinders it, which ultimately affects our mental wellbeing and sense of belonging. While physical distancing should appropriately be enforced when it is necessary to protect people against contagion, it is vital that at the same time the social aspect of our relationships should be maintained and strengthened to sustain our bonds – particularly in support of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“…socialising is a fundamental human need, and “social distancing” hinders it.”
Secondly, the longer people are asked to go without many of the valued pursuits that give their lives purpose, whether this means attending a religious gathering, a group therapy session or a family reunion, the more of a negative impact social distancing will have on their sense of mental wellbeing. Of great concern among healthcare professionals is that the longer social distancing is in effect, the more the suicide rate, which was already considered to be at a crisis level before the pandemic, will accelerate*.
“… an increase in the outbreak of domestic violence and addictive behaviours occurs in times of distress, such as the onslaught of a pandemic.”
Thirdly, an increase in the outbreak of domestic violence and addictive behaviours occurs in times of distress, such as the onslaught of a pandemic. There have been increased reports of spikes in child abuse and domestic violence, which means more families stuck at home face the threat of immediate physical danger **. And, for many low-income parents and children, leaving the house to go to work or attend school provides a safe haven, not to mention access to essential feeding schemes, which can ease the tension in under-provisioned and overcrowded homes.
As in other countries, it has become evident that while we, in South Africa, have made great strides in protecting our nation from a deadly virus, we have inadvertently exposed many citizens to other unhealthy situations and environments, and it is going to take a concerted effort, with health and safety professionals at the forefront, to find a way to fix the damage. There is a great need for research to examine the various macro and micro-level factors and fully understand the impact of this pandemic on employee wellbeing, as well as to fully identify effective support not only for employees in the aftermath of the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also to make sure that necessary actions will be taken to prevent such a destructive impact on employee wellbeing in future pandemics.
There is a great need for research to examine the various macro and micro-level factors and fully understand the impact of this pandemic on employee wellbeing
To help employees deal with coronavirus-related stress and mental health issues, a strong Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a good place to start.
What employers can do to help employees deal with stress and mental health issues:
- If you don’t already have one, make it a priority to establish an Employee Assistance programme.
- Select the right Employee Assistance service provider. Whether you are a first-time shopper for an EAP or evaluating the one that you currently have, take the time to do your due diligence.
- Promote your EAP’s available mental health benefits frequently through various channels and messages, both inline and off. Remind employees of the availability in meetings, orientations, newsletters, intranets and social media.
- Train your supervisors and managers to be alert for stressors and mental health issues, often evident through changes in performance and train them in how to appropriately refer to the EAP for services. 3