Post-Pandemic Mental Wellness: Remaining resilient
Building a resilient workforce
As we move into the middle of 2022, COVID-19 has become endemic for a large part of the world, firmly introducing a new norm into our lives. However, behind the veneer of normalcy lies the aftermath of a long-standing disease that has affected millions.
Emergence of a global mental health crisis
In the early days of the global pandemic, people struggled to cope with the drastic lifestyle shift facing them. Lockdowns, grounded flights, work/school from home and many other such measures saw people facing the loss of basic social interactions.
Mental health and stability were at an all-time low. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a 25% increase in anxiety and depression rates worldwide. “Multiple stress factors put somewhat insurmountable pressure on people’s ability to work, provide for their families and seek support from their loved ones,” says Dr. Kevin Hill Dineros, Philippines Corporate Health Specialist, Aon. “Most have had to scrounge up ways to pick up the shattered pieces of their mental wellbeing in the wake of the pandemic.”
Evolution of mental health advocacy
Mental health advocacy in the early days of COVID-19 was geared towards addressing concerns around adapting to the new normal. Therapists and psychologists focused their energies towards helping people cope with loss, and aid packages were distributed to ease financial strain.
However, the pandemic continues to rage, and the world has seemingly moved on. “As the focus on physical and medical wellbeing wanes, many people are eager to return to the way things were pre-pandemic,” Dr. Dineros explains. “This movement comes with an entirely new set of external stressors that must be managed.”
With a focus on “return to normal”, commuting to office is in the forefront of most people’s minds. Office workers find themselves leaving the safety of their homes to risk their health in order to support their loved ones. “To many, this stands as a mentally fatiguing task, having just recently adjusted to the work-life balance that a work-from-home setup provides them,” says Dr. Dineros.
Enter a new world of work
Though some organizations have taken notice of the productivity boons that flexible work environments have provided over the past two years, many are still leaning towards a return to pre-pandemic norms.
The pandemic has caused the fragile balance between employees and employers to be challenged, with many clamoring for more workplace rights and employee benefits that emphasize the safety of themselves and their families. This dramatic shift in priorities and the eventual mental and psychological strain it would place people under is one main focal points for mental health experts today.
“We may see a similar spike in anxiety and depression as people are forced into environments, they personally deem unsafe,” Dr. Dineros warns. “As a result, productivity in all aspects will decline.” However, this stressor is not solely directed supply-side.
Workplaces must also carefully consider the practicality of forcing a return to normal too quickly, he adds. They may be motivated by several factors, chief of which is the substantial financial capital invested in properties and facilities that have remained unused throughout the pandemic. “The capitalistic urge to return to normalcy would undoubtedly leave behind many people still suffering from the long-lasting after-effects of the virus,” says Dr. Dineros.
Easing into the road ahead
While no single solution can mitigate mental health risk amidst a new world of work, forward-thinking employers are working towards enabling a corporate culture of mental resilience. For workplaces, mental resilience calls for a greater ability to adjust to the demands of employees.
For example, the minor financial and logistics setbacks that a work-from-home setup may create is vastly outweighed by the benefits of improved mental health and employee retention within the establishment.
“A mentally resilient employer understands that by first addressing the needs of his/her employee, both would ultimately benefit in the long run,” says Dr. Dineros. “For instance, it will allow businesses to partner with employees to maximize opportunities that a post-pandemic economy will bring.”
For most of the population, mental resilience is an extension of prior strategies geared towards addressing the adjustment to the pandemic. Many people still suffer from the debilitating effects of COVID-19, and a dramatic loss of life and livelihoods is not easily fixed in the span of a few months.
Despite many countries lifting COVID-19 mandates, depression and anxiety rates have hardly deviated from peak pandemic numbers. Mental resilience amongst the population would address not only external stressors from work and various other responsibilities but would also aim at internal stressors that have developed over time through emotionally strenuous events of the recent years. “Will mental resilience, businesses and individuals can overcome the impact of future pandemics,” Dr. Dineros concludes.