Millions struggle to maintain mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

World Today

The pandemic has taken not just a huge physical toll, it’s affected people emotionally as well.

“I’m unable to work, unable to interact with all my friends,” said one Colorado man this past spring. “I mean that’s contributing to some depression and isolation.”

As shutdowns of businesses have ended, many folks have returned to their jobs, but the stresses of the past year, whether related to health, finances or kids at home, remain. A recent survey by management consulting firm McKinsey found 62 percent of workers said they considered mental health a top challenge.

“Some people have fared very well,” said Skip Dwyer, Micro Center District Manager. “Some people have suffered a lot.”

Dwyer runs a computer store in Denver where some employees were thrown off-balance when the virus first began to spread.

“Some took a 45 day leave of absence,” he said. “They have all come back.”

Many in the public health profession, on the other hand, are leaving their jobs.

“Tremendous amount of stress, a lot of anxiety and depression,” said Kim Boyd, Lolina Health Consultancy president.

It’s partly due, she said, to the way they’ve been targeted politically for their pandemic response. Meantime, Dr. Dana Lerman consults businesses on how to operate safely.

“Some of our employees are losing family members and they’re dealing with death and grieving and there’s the isolation,” said Lerman, The COVID Consultants co-founder. “I mean there’s so many different facets here.”

That’s prompted lots to companies and organizations to prioritize the mental health of their workers. And make employee assistance programs which are focused on those issues even more available.

“We’ve also done basically we call them loans but we haven’t asked for money back,” said Mike Venturini, principal of Campos EPC, an engineering firm. “Anything to help our employees survive.”

Experts on workplace culture argue managers have a clear responsibility during this time.

“How do I be that role model for healthy behavior so that I can help my team be resilient and really manage their mental health in a way that works for them,” said Tara Powers, a consultant who runs Powers Resource Center.

Encouraging physical activity and outdoor breaks can be helpful.

“Even if you’ve got a conference call that happens to be on a phone and not on Zoom in front of video, walk outside while you’re doing it and do what you need to do to stay healthy for you,” said Dot Miller, head of The Solution which advises trade and other associations.

The benefit of working remotely that the pandemic helped accelerate may he limited by the loneliness that sometimes comes with it.

“I think we’re going to see that shift and it’s going to be incredible but I also think people really do want to be back together,” Miller said. “They need that psychologically, emotionally. They need to be with people.”

It may be a while before those in-person needs are met. Which means businesses may have to step in and help, if they can.