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  • Writer's pictureEric Van Meter

Internal Comms & Mental Health in the COVID-19 Lockdown

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

As the coronavirus continues its sweep around the globe, there’s another pandemic right on its heels. Many are already in the grip of this shadow crisis, and many more will struggle with it in the weeks and months ahead. It’s a crisis of emotional health: depression, anxiety, anger, grief.

Building on lessons learned from the 2003 outbreak of SARS and 2014 outbreak of Ebola, the National Health Commission of China released guidelines for emergency psychological crisis intervention in January (related article). Experts from the University of Washington’s Center for the Science of Social Connection also warn that a coming epidemic of clinical depression is likely. Communications won’t solve these issues, but they can help you address them as a business owner or manager. Here are 5 things to consider in helping your employees when it comes to mental and emotional wellness in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Don’t ignore mental health Many people feel ashamed when they struggle with depression or anxiety. Not talking about mental health reinforces that shame, making it the elephant in the room. Let your employees know that you know this is something many people are struggling with. Doing so won’t dispel the challenges that people face, but for some, it could help those challenges from getting worse.

Lower your expectations The fact is, few people are performing at their best right now. COVID-19 infections and deaths have not peaked in the US, and things will get worse before they get better. Stress, depression and anxiety are compounded by the fact that many people are sleeping poorly, trying to homeschool their kids and likely having more arguments with anyone they share a home with. Expect people to make more mistakes. Expect them to be more irritable and less patient. Expect them to be less productive. Once you’ve made peace with these facts (not easy for anyone running a business), let your employees know that you know this will happen and that it’s OK.

Provide resources In an earlier post, I advised against providing your employees with general health and safety information unless the information is specifically relevant to their work. There’s already so much being pushed from all sides, adding to that fray isn’t helpful. However, mental health resources are different. Many people who are struggling with mental health avoid looking for help. Depression and anxiety can also interfere with our usual levels of resourcefulness. Doing that work for your employees won’t help everyone over the hurdle, but it could help some. Share online resources, like the NAMI guide linked below. If you provide health insurance, find out what services your plans cover and distill that info in an email. Make some calls to local social service agencies or mental health organizations and ask what free or low-cost resources your employees could access.

Connect with your business peers Everyone who owns or runs a business is already dealing with increased mental health issues among their employees, whether they know it or not. For most of them, this is not an issue they’ve had to deal with before. This is a time to learn from each other. If you’re a small business owner, reach out to others in your community to find out what they’re doing to help their employees. If they’re not doing anything, it’s an opportunity to brainstorm as a group or share the work of gathering info on available resources.

Connect your employees Schedule a check-in with your employees or team. Zoom and Google Hangouts both offer simple and free virtual meetings. Note that Google Hangouts requires everyone to have a Google account unless you're using the enterprise tier G Suite platform. Keep the invitation light — “Some time to reconnect and touch base” — and once on the call, bring up the question of mental health. This opener can be as simple as “I know a lot of people are struggling right now, feeling depressed, angry, scared. How is everyone doing?” Think of yourself as a facilitator in this meeting, though it could help to share some of your own feelings and experiences. The goal is to get people talking to each other so that you can draw from that exchange more info about how you can best provide support.

Resources & Information NAMI Covid-19 Resource & Information Guide The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a ton of mental health tips and helplines for the general population as well as people dealing with intersectional difficulties: immigration status, loved ones who are incarcerated, caregivers and more.

CDC Info on Stress & Coping The Centers for Disease Control has info on reducing mental health stigma, ways to cope with stress, disaster preparedness, self-care and information for parents.

Mayo Clinic Info on COVID-19 & Mental Health In addition to strategies for self-care and managing stress, the Mayo Clinic offers insights into knowing when it’s time for someone suffering emotionally to seek professional help.

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