Preparing for the Mental Health Epidemic Created by the Pandemic
The challenges we face with COVID-19 are significant, and fighting our way back to some kind of “new normal” is vital. But that will really be just the first step of the battle. Once we conquer the pandemic, we will have to turn our attention and resources to the new epidemic in mental health, which is being driven by COVID-19, civil unrest, and other environmental factors.
Alarming Rates of Abuse
Our teams, friends, and family are experiencing historical levels of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and grief. Levels of substance abuse, domestic abuse, and suicide are increasing at alarming rates.
“It is now crystal clear that mental health needs must be treated as a core element of our response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic…A failure to take people’s emotional wellbeing seriously will lead to long-term social and economic costs to society.” — Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director of the World Health Organization (WHO)
Can we all just take a moment and remind ourselves it’s completely normal to feel discouraged or anxious right now?
If you consider the number of people who feel threatened by the potential loss of their financial security, health, safety, autonomy, and other core tenets of our mental wellbeing, it would be unusual for this not to create elevated numbers of mental health challenges. This is a normal reaction to a challenging set of world events.
So what do we do and how do we prepare? How do we help our teams, family, and friends fight this epidemic?
Mental Health Help Is on the Way
Let’s talk about four solutions for your teams, families, and even yourself:
- Normalize — These feelings are normal and nothing is wrong with anyone who feels these challenges.
- Assess — What am I feeling? Is this a minor or serious challenge I need help with?
- Build — How do I develop the skills and habits to help cope and improve over time?
- Self-Care — Sleep, exercise, and downtime are vital for good mental health.
Now that I’ve set the stage, I’d like to dive a bit deeper into each.
The first step is to understand, and help everyone else understand, that these feelings are perfectly normal and even expected. They are not a sign that something is broken. They are a sign that you are human and, as humans, we all struggle and need help.
Some great ways to normalize this for your team is to ask your leaders to share their feelings and experiences. The more we as leaders can be open, transparent, and vulnerable, the more we can help our teams see that it is normal to struggle and see the importance of reaching out for help.
For your friends and family, be there to ask about their wellbeing and make yourself available to help support them or to help them find the resources they might need.
For yourself, understand that no one is immune and that we all have challenges and struggles. Forgive yourself for needing help and allow yourself to reach out. Treat yourself like you would a friend — with grace and understanding.
Encourage your leaders, supervisors, and peers to ask how others are doing and listen attentively to the answers.
It’s no longer effective to throw out a passing comment like, “How are you doing?” if we are not ready to listen and be mindful of the answer. If we take the time to genuinely check in on people and encourage them to share their moods and feelings, they will become more resilient just knowing someone cares. We can also take more time to enhance our awareness of who needs our focused time or help from others.
For yourself, be sure to think about your current mood and feelings. Identify how you are feeling and why. What are the triggers for those feelings? Managing your wellbeing will be much easier if you understand what is triggering those struggles.
Finally, there are a significant number of apps and online assessments you can access to determine how you rate on a scale for anxiety, depression, or other brain health challenges.
People don’t go from “a life without challenges” to “depressed” in a day. Life is full of constant challenges and struggles for everyone, and they build up over time. Add in a major setback, and we can quickly be surprised by how overwhelmed we feel.
The good news is we don’t have to wait to be overwhelmed before we start building habits and skills to become more resilient. Practicing one or two simple habits each day can help make us stronger and more prepared to face life’s daily challenges. We can fight the feeling of being overwhelmed before it surprises us.
As a team leader, you can encourage small celebrations for incremental successes. You can ask for weekly reviews of positive accomplishments to help them build confidence and create a foundation of positive memories they can use as a buttress against the onslaught of negativity.
For your friends and family, solidify those relationships by reaching and communicating on a regular basis. Also, create spaces for open dialogue and acceptance of the differing perspectives that are fundamental to all relationships.
For yourself, practice a single habit that helps you feel better and stronger. Starting the morning with a short gratitude list or ending the day by remembering something that went positively are small practices that take very little time but can make a big difference when times get tough. Pick something that works for you and take a few moments to implement each day.
We spend a lot of time helping others, thinking about our job, or just being busy. It requires effort to pause and prioritize our own health.
As team leaders, we want to encourage our teams to maintain reasonable working hours with breaks and time outside. We want to show support for them getting enough sleep and exercise. We can help our teams prioritize and recognize their accomplishments so they feel confident that they are valued and can mentally and physically relax during off hours.
For our family members and friends, we can encourage them to practice healthy habits, visit and follow the directions of their physicians, and just be there so they have a connection when they need support or feel overwhelmed by the multitude of challenges we all face in life.
For yourself, prioritize self-care. Your ability to help others is helped or inhibited by how much time you commit to taking care of yourself. Diet, sleep, and exercise have significant impacts on your mood and willpower. Putting care for yourself first is not selfish, it is what enables you to be the most prepared to help your team, your friends, and your family.
Mental health is the epidemic that will be a legacy of the pandemic. But, if we start now and recognize the challenge, we can build skills and habits that will help us, our team, and our family and friends survive and even thrive in the new normal.
If you need help getting started, just reach out to us!