It wouldn’t be a ground-breaking, earth shattering statement to say that COVID-19 is likely to impact many people’s mental health. It is impossible to the think that the change and uncertainty forced upon us wouldn’t cause a heightened level of mental and emotional strain in the community.
But to date, what has been the impact on our mental health? To help provide some insight from the “frontline” I thought I would highlight the trends we are seeing at Veretis. Now, I must acknowledge that we work with a particular population within the community, the workforce. However, it is a good data pool from which to report from given the workforce is our largest captured population, and the spread of additional demographics (age, gender, education, race, religion, sexuality etc.) the workforce represents.
So, what have we seen to date?
There has not been a tremendous surge in people seeking support. The vulnerable however, have been impacted.
What does this suggest?
We are all likely feeling an element of anxiousness, low-emotion, or stress but at this point it is those who are “at risk” that have needed clinical support. Those who are “at risk” or “vulnerable” are those who already had significant issues with anxiety or depression and those who made significant changes to their lives before COVID-19 erupted. This puts them in a vulnerable position e.g. broke off a long-term relationship/marriage, left a job (with or without a job to go to), or moved cities.
What is likely to happen in the future? Reviewing what has happened in other countries hit by COVID-19 earlier than ourselves, a surge will happen. Other countries saw a surge in accessing of mental health services (particularly those provided by the workplace) around the 3-4-week mark of “lock-down” (understanding that looks different in each country). As the novelty of working from home, or having the household together more starts to wear off and the uncertainty of what the future holds lingers, we will start to see uptake in mental health services increase.
Health vs Finance
This is not a mental health pandemic related to physical health. Those presenting with anxiousness, stress or depressive symptoms related to concern for health are in the minority. The mental health impact of COVID-19 (to date) is seen more in relation to job security, finance, and concern for the coping of children.
Concern for the health of older friends/family members, or those with existing health concerns is present, however, the concern for financial situation and coping of children is the significant majority.
What are we struggling with?
The big ones for the work force are:
2) Boundaries between work and personal.
Finding the new “normal” routine is difficult. We have been asked to make a lot of changes. As creatures of habit, we are struggling to onboard a new routine. The other challenge posed in this area, is staying engaged in positive habits. It is pretty easy to fall into the trap of spending the whole day in our pyjamas or sleeping in and making up for it a little bit later.
Ultimately, this disrupts our engagement in the positive, achievement orientated elements that used to be the foundations of our day. Our emotions, thoughts and behaviours are all influenced by each other. If we are not engaging in our positive value orientated behaviours, we are not “fuelling” our emotional well-being.
Find your new routine which emulates what your standard routine was as best as possible (get creative). This is critical to self-managing yourself through this period.
Looking at the second issue, people are struggling to keep a boundary between their work life and personal life. This is because currently, work (for most of us) is taking place in our homes. That is, the dining room table is the work desk between 9-5. Heading to and from work provided a ritual, a barrier that helped us to switch on and off. Even if we elected to work from home after hours, we were making an executive decision to do so after a change of environment. We invited work into our homes, now it is ruling the joint.
Like with most things related to COVID-19, we are not 100% sure. As the days roll on it is likely that we will follow many other countries and see a surge in people asking for support.
The government has already taken some terrific steps in funding further mental health support during this time and hopefully this helps the community-based support systems cope with any surge in need.
From what we have seen in our presentation so far, we are not currently in a mental health pandemic. Please don’t spread this message. This only adds to the raft issues our community is currently facing. We predict that uptake will begin to rise in the future. What we can all do is look to adapt with changes being forced upon us. Look to establish a new “normal” which continues to prioritise those behaviours and activities which bring us meaning, purpose and achievement.
Use this time as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what is truly important in life.