Ensure Covid-19 doesn't have a lasting impact on mental health

04 June 2020 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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Work may have changed forever as a result of the ‘new normal’ triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no doubt that the digital and less-office minded way of working is having a profound effect on mental health. Chris Biggs, Managing Director of accounting and consulting firm Theta Financial Reporting, on why a lasting impact on mental health should be avoided. 

While it appears that lockdown is beginning to coexist alongside the nation’s anxieties, many have continued to suffer mental health issues during this period; at a time when many NHS services have been diverted. According to Joy Hibbins, CEO of Suicide Crisis, self-harm has also been on the rise.

In a piece in Mental Health Today, she said "we have also noticed a marked increase in people expressing thoughts of self-harm, even when they have not had such thoughts for years... It may be partly because of the way in which the Covid-19 crisis is being presented as a war-like situation.”

In some professions, this has been more profound than in others. A recent study from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said that four in ten architects have seen their mental health deteriorate over the last two months of lockdown. RIBAs chief executive said, “as lockdown restrictions ease, construction sites re-open and we establish new ways of working, we must prioritise our health and wellbeing – and those of our employees and colleagues – and seek support should we need to.”

How to improve mental health?

Those on furlough or that have been made redundant also face additional anxiety, as new research from the Open Up 2020 Challenge reveals money worries are negatively impacting the mental health of nearly one quarter (23%) of the population. In fact, one in five (21%) say financial stress is having a bigger impact on their mental wellbeing than physical health concerns during the Covid-19 crisis. 

On the frontline, doctors and nurses face a “mental health crisis” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has been warned as figures show the burden of mental illness is taking an increasing toll on the NHS. The number of working days lost to the health service in England thanks to mental health problems has more than doubled in the past decade. 

Professional services

With mental health concerns rising across society, it should not come as a surprise that those in professional services are also at risk of stress, anxiety and even depression. This is a difficult time for people who have not even been directly affected by the Coronavirus, never mind those who have tragically lost family and friends; so, it is more important than ever to look after our mental health and be there for one another. 

In accountancy, for example, the end of year period, furlough, changes to tax and VAT returns, and all kinds of loans and grants have made the situation different to most other end-of-financial-year periods; giving stress and anxiety the opportunity to rear their ugly heads. 

In management consulting, anxiety is on the rise due to the growing risk of jobs disappearing. Amid the fallout of demand, clients are cutting back on consultancy expenses, typically regarded a discretionary cost. According to the latest estimates, the consulting industry will contract by around 18% this year, meaning that consultancies will be seeking to downsize their teams.

“Professionals in professional services are at risk of stress, anxiety and even depression.”
– Chris Biggs, Theta Financial Reporting

Three tips to help your mental health as we begin to return to work: 

Think flexibly

Flexible working, which allows people to balance their family and professional commitments, gives people the opportunity to focus on one task at a time. Trying to work at home in the company of small children is difficult, so try and work, if your manager allows you to, around your family commitments. This will help you to focus on the job at hand and make you more present for both your family and your team at work. 

Remember to sign off

Working at home during the lockdown period has meant that many people have been working above and beyond their normal hours. This may look like dedicated, hard work but after a certain point, it is simply presenteeism; sign off, utilise your evenings to recharge and be more productive the next day.

Keep social

While we can't physically meet up yet, keep in contact with your team members. Organise work quizzes, social video drinks or a working lunch. It will help to relieve stress and relax you and your team. End of the week socials are a great thing to look forward to and can help you to forget the stresses and strains of the working week.

Across the sector, individual companies have already begun to make changes. Many have launched a series of initiatives and activities to promote the importance of mental and physical wellbeing during this period. The activities available include training mental health first aiders to help them to support staff during lockdown, virtual yoga sessions, as well as wellbeing talks during ‘lunch and learn’ events. 

So long as actors, individual companies, managers and business leaders continue to have the conversation about mental health, continuing to work at home and going back to the office will be easier. Covid-19 has had a profound and lasting effect on all of us, but with the right action, we can attempt to avoid the pandemic having negative and long-lasting implications on our mental health.