We’ve all probably had days in the last several months as we’ve dealt with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic when we were feeling anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, sad—or a combination of all of them.
Business leaders and school officials must understand the effect a traumatic event has not only on their employees’ or students’ feelings about physical safety, but also on their emotional well-being, says Melissa Reeves, school psychologist and associate professor at Winthrop University.
While Reeves’ keynote presentation during the Campus Safety Online Summit was primarily focused on educational facilities, there was plenty of crossover that corporate executives can use to help them become better leaders as employees continue to deal with various emotional and physical triggers.
About one-third of Americans are showing signs of anxiety and/or depression since the pandemic hit North American shores in full force in mid-March and that number jumps to about 55 percent struggling with mental health for those who are also dealing with financial stress, says Reeves.
Only about 50 percent of people are comfortable discussing their mental health with co-workers and supervisors, she says, with about one-third of people feeling their honesty about their struggles will lead to some sort of retaliation.
“It’s OK to open the conversation,” says Reeves, noting long-term consequences of anxiety and depression can last a decade and the signs of coronavirus-related stress is higher in young people and not as high as expected in those who are 65 and older.
“We’re dealing with a moving amoeba,” says Reeves. “Just when you think you have a plan, something COVID-related changes that. We’ve heard a lot about focusing on self-care, but how do you find the time to take care of yourself with so many other things going on?”
Why Employee Mental Health Is More Important Than Ever
The pandemic and increasing pushes for racial equality across the U.S. show no clear end, says Reeves, and that can make the stress of dealing with those situations more difficult to manage. There’s also a lack of guidance in dealing with some of the stress of those crises, she says.
The complexities and magnitude of the impact of these stressors can become cumulative when added on top of other traumas that are already affecting people, Reeves says. These situations have proven to exacerbated existing racial, medical and educational inequities, she says.
“Many of us like to be problem solvers but there are no clear answers right now,” says Reeves. “That’s why it’s so important to focus on the quality of relationships.” That comes, she says, through social-emotional learning, which is strengths-based.
“It’s about partnerships and the opportunities for us to come together and engage,” says Reeves. “It’s important to assess, not assume. We need to make sure we are addressing the concerns, not just guessing at what they are.
“The more we’re able to do on the front end, the better off we’ll be in a crisis. We have to be safe and feel safe for us to be emotionally available,” she says. That means business leaders and school officials must have a plan for what they’ll do when a student or employee tests positive for coronavirus.
“Your tone sets the tone for the staff,” says Reeves. Leaders should try to reframe threats into challenges and reframe problems into dilemmas, she says. They also must modify expectations and focus on the most important components of a job or school curriculum during the pandemic.