The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health
If the country continues to ignore the collateral damage—specifically our nation’s mental health—we will not come out of this stronger.”
– Benjamin F. Miller, PsyD, Chief Strategy Officer at Well Being Trust.
The societal side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are harmful and wide-reaching. People are living through unprecedented unemployment, economic hardship, and startling increases in domestic and child abuse. As a result, these overlapping crises are taking a toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing. A recent report found that 45% of adults say the pandemic has worsened their mental health. Some of this impact can be seen in the dramatic rise in the use of hotlines for emotional distress—one federal emergency hotline saw a 1,000 percent increase in April 2020 compared to the same time last year.
Employees are also experiencing these mental health impacts. In a new report from Ginger, 88% of workers recently reported experiencing moderate to extreme stress. Among those reporting stress, almost two-thirds of workers reported significant productivity losses due to COVID-19–related stress. Employers are a critical touchpoint for mental health support, but in a global study across 10 industries, 40% of employees reported their company had not even asked them how they were doing in light of COVID-19.
Checking in with employees may seem insignificant, but small actions can have a meaningful effect on staff wellbeing. These actions alone cannot fix the structural issues with our mental health system, but they are a start. Employers have a critical role to play in building the mental health system of tomorrow by supporting their employees today.
How can behavioral insights help improve mental health and wellbeing?
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, behavioral insights have been used to help promote compliance with health behaviors such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing. Similar principles can be applied to support mental health, increase wellbeing, and reduce burnout. In one BIT trial, 911 dispatchers received emails that encouraged a stronger sense of professional identity and a shared sense of community. Receiving the series of emails and accompanying stories led to a 39% reduction in burnout.
We present a summary list of behaviorally-informed solutions to improve mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. More details on each of these solutions are in the downloadable guide below. We encourage employers to use this list as a starting point for ideation, which should be tailored to fit the tone and values of your organization.
Reduce friction and cognitive load
- Simplify communications by presenting the most important points first and last, removing all non-essential content, and remembering that the message can be more important than the design.
- Make it easy to pick and choose resources.
Create a shared sense of community
- Use influential messengers to de-stigmatize mental health and promote healthy behaviors.
- Use simple prompts to promote 1:1 connections.
Promote opportunities for altruistic activities
- Make it easy for people to engage in volunteer activities