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Are businesses in a position to address the increase in mental health issues such as Covid Anxiety Syndrome?

Shamira Graham

Forward-thinking employers should provide their staff with targeted mental health and well-being support to improve retention and create a more positive working environment, argues Shamira Graham, director of corporate solutions at Onebright

It has been well documented that workplaces are experiencing significant levels of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover due to a range of factors impacting employee mental health. This has only been compounded by the impact of Covid-variant Omicron on our lives. 

A survey carried out in September 2021 revealed that one in 20 employees would describe their employer’s attitude to mental health as poor or incompetent. Despite this, six in 10 (61%) decision-makers stated that their organisation has increased measures to support the mental health of their employees in the last year.

Clearly, there is a great disparity building between employers and employees, where many workforces feel provisions for mental health support are not present in their working lives. Businesses certainly need to be mindful now more than ever of their employees’ health and wellbeing.

Supporting mental health in the workplace

Experts are noticing a rise in Covid-related anxiety. The concept of ‘Covid Anxiety Syndrome’ was first theorised by professors last year when, professors Ana Nikchevic and Marcantonio Spada of Kingston University and London South Bank University, noticed people were developing a particular set of traits in response to Covid.

Just over half of the UK’s workplace population are now actively avoiding public transport because of a fear of contracting the virus, while 49% are now conscious of touching things in public spaces. More severe symptoms of CAS include agoraphobia and obsessive cleaning, an inability to complete or focus on tasks, problems with sleeping, and a loss of interest in connecting with friends and family can be further signs that support may be needed.

We have seen pre-existing conditions prevalent in society be exacerbated by the pandemic. In the UK, depression was already a common mental health problem, and it is estimated that one in four people experience a common mental health disorder at some time in their life.

The Covid pandemic has laid bare the impact that loneliness, self-isolation, and a change in circumstances can have on our mood. It is likely that many more people have suffered with depression over the past 18 months, and there is some evidence that people with pre-existing mood disorders have found it even more challenging to cope with the changes that have been thrust upon us and have seen their symptoms worsen.

In many cases, these challenges and more can be overcome with the right mental health support. We are seeing more British businesses, especially the larger employers taking this seriously, by offering private medical insurance, in-house mental health training, and support with occupational health teams.

The role of insurers in supporting businesses

Poor mental health provisions cost employers £45m nationwide annually, and private medical insurers have a role to play in supporting businesses with employee retention and wellbeing through access to mental health assessments and treatments for employees. They can also help employees outside of work, as advanced specialist support can be allocated to family members and children alike.

It is becoming more apparent in the mental health sector that on-demand and integrated healthcare services allow for immediate efficiency. This ultimately ensures that employers who integrate mental wellbeing provisions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, as a foundation of their organisation and can, therefore, provide an ecosystem for increased workplace productivity and output, reducing the rates of absenteeism, and opening the door for employees to discuss mental health.

Matching clinical expertise with private medical insurance can help put organisations at ease. Without a doubt, we are seeing forward-thinking employers providing their staff with targeted mental health support and timely, efficient access to high-quality mental health assessment and treatment. This equips them with the skills and awareness they need to tackle mental health issues and helps them to create a positive and open working environment.

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