Thanks to the widespread and constant media coverage, we all know the factors that facilitate infectious pandemics like coronavirus (COVID-19). A rise in long-distance travel, increased international exchange and global climate changes are just some of the guilty parties helping the spread of disease across our planet faster than ever.
We also know how to minimize our risk of infection – washing hands properly, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home if sick, keeping surfaces clean and staying away from sick people.
According to a Psychiatric Times article, however, that same informative media coverage is also responsible for panic, stress and the potential for hysteria. Pandemics are not just a medical phenomenon; they can be the cause of anxiety-related behaviors, sleep disturbances and an overall lower perceived state of health, especially in individuals already suffering from mental illness.
How Many are Affected?
It’s still too early to know exactly how many are suffering from mental or emotional problems as a result of the most recent pandemic. But take note of how aware you have become of washing your hands, touching surfaces or getting on a plane. For most of us, these things are much more top-of-mind than they were just weeks ago.
There has been some research, however. In February, according to Bloomberg Opinion, the Chinese Psychology Society surveyed 18,000 asking if they felt anxiety related to the coronavirus outbreak. Almost 43% said yes.
What About Patients and Healthcare Workers?
Not surprisingly, the closer people are to the infection – like coronavirus patients, families of patients and healthcare workers – the greater the anxiety and overall mental toll.
Quarantine is a prudent and necessary response to any viral outbreak, a critical step towards slowing the spread of the virus and providing valuable time to prepare. Yet, as also stated in Bloomberg Opinion, this isolation is usually accompanied by unwelcome (and under-reported) side effects, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress (or PTSD). After the SARS outbreak of 2002/2003, researchers identified how these events can take a mental toll on both patients and medical staff.
- A study of 233 SARS survivors in Hong Kong found that 40% had “active psychiatric illness” years after the outbreak, including PTSD, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- A 2006 study of 549 employees of a Beijing hospital that treated SARS patients found that 10% exhibited symptoms of PTSD.
Whether for patients, healthcare workers or the public at large, it’s clear that mental health care and treatment needs to be an integral part of the coronavirus recovery process. Long-term psychological effects could become the infection’s longest-lasting legacy.
How Can I Help My Employees Right Now?
When faced with situations that are uncertain and that we can’t control, it is normal to feel more anxious. Here are some helpful tips we provide to our clients to give to their employees, gathered from our team of coaches and counselors, as well as sources such as National Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal:
- Manage Information – Find a credible, trusted source of information like the CDC website (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), your state public health agency or your primary care physician. Stay informed so you’re aware of current information like precautions, warnings or quarantines – but be careful about overloading on information as that can increase feelings of anxiety. Checking your trusted news source once or twice a day should provide the information you need.
- Plan Ahead – Often, our anxiety increases when we feel a loss of control. While we can’t control if we come in contact with coronavirus, there are some things we can control – like planning ahead. Make plans now for how you would address childcare and work if you or other family members were to get sick or schools/business would close. Talk to your doctor about any prescription medications that may require refills. And take an inventory of non-perishable groceries and over-the counter medications you may want on hand.
- Stay Connected – Talking to family and friends can be very helpful in relieving stress and anxiety (during a pandemic, or anytime).
- Maintain Your Routine – Continuing to do the things as usual – like exercise and going to bed at the same time – are helpful in creating a sense of normalcy which helps reduce stress.
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Research shows many benefits of a good night’s sleep, including reducing stress and anxiety.
- Breathe – Regularly practicing relaxation techniques – deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, etc. – can help reduce stress and anxiety. Taking a break and engaging in an activity you enjoy, like watching a favorite show or playing a game, can also help.
- Take Basic Precautions – Take the recommended precautions to help stay healthy – wash your hands for 20 seconds, avoid touching your face and avoid contact with those who are sick. Not only do these things reduce your chances of infection, they can help you feel more in control.
What About Employees Who Need More Help?
Psychological effects of a pandemic are wide-ranging, and many need help beyond dealing with a little extra anxiety. This is where Espyr comes in. Through our industry-leading coaching, counseling and assistance programs, Espyr has been helping employees maintain good physical and mental health for 30 years.
One such program is iResolve, a service that is included in every Espyr Employee Assistance Program (EAP). With iResolve, employees can access unlimited and immediate help as easy as making a phone call. There’s no appointment necessary, and employees will speak to one of our licensed professional counselors, coaches or clinicians.
iResolve helps employees build resilience and develop coping strategies for dealing with uncertainty. Furthermore, it promotes connectedness and strengthening of support networks when social distancing measures are suggested.
Thanks to Espyr and iResolve, employers are able to provide employees with the help they need, whether due to coronavirus anxiety, other mental health issues or work-related problems.
Espyr is a leader in behavioral health solutions, offering employers a variety of innovative products and services designed to maximize human and organizational potential.
For more information on how Espyr can help your company provide for the mental health of your employees, call 888-570-3479 or click here.