The Pandemic State of Mind: What’s Causing COVID-induced Psychological Trauma and How Can You Respond To The Crisis?

Mental health has always been an area of concern. However, recent surveys suggest that the mental wellbeing of employees in India has gone from bad to worse. As many as 36% of India Inc employees feel that their mental health has worsened since the pandemic.

The pandemic has been in the headlines ever since it snuck into the country and started wreaking havoc. While we are aware of the devastation it has caused, focusing mostly on what’s in front of us, the pandemic has gone behind closed doors and possibly triggered a mental health pandemic.

As of now, India is on the cusp of a mental health epidemic. According to a survey conducted by an HR and well-being firm during July-August 2020, employees in India earning less than INR 5 LPA reported career prospects (53%) and personal finance (55%) to be the biggest sources of stress. Those earning between INR 20-25 LPA aren’t faring well either — 35% of high-income employees reported burnouts and abysmal mental wellbeing scores.

A few other figures — collated by the survey which included 509 respondents from metro cities and various sectors — throw light on the worsening mental wellbeing of India Inc employees since the beginning of the pandemic:

  • 45% working for an employer reported anxiety or depression
  • 30% of self-employed individuals severely stressed
  • Anxiety plaguing 44% of full-time work-from-home employees
  • 48% of remote employees reported stress as a result of task deadlines
  • 28% of WFH employees reported burnout
  • Unemployed respondents: 61% stressed, 42% angry, 47% reported anxiety
  • 61% of the unemployed reported stress related to career growth
  • 60% of unemployed respondents stressed due to the uncertainty of future

Experts speculate that even though the pandemic is brought under control, mental wellbeing in India will continue to deteriorate. But how exactly is the pandemic exacerbating India’s mental health crisis? Let’s take a look.

1. When a Privilege Turns Sour

Perhaps the major change that came about as a result of the pandemic was WFH being enforced on employees. Homes became offices and employees had to adapt to an environment where they had to juggle multiple roles — caregiver, worker, boss, parent, and so on.

A sudden shift to remote work was always going to be a double-edged sword. Before the pandemic, work from home was a privilege that was only given to select employees. Now, it has become a norm where employees have no choice to stay indoors to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Experts say that it’s not work-from-home that has resulted in more cases of stress and anxiety; it’s working from home for a prolonged time — with no end in sight — that’s to blame.

2. Separation and Loneliness

Many India Inc employees are working in cities, within four walls, far away from their friends and family members. In the last 8 months, many haven’t gone home and are living alone, managing food on their own, and doing household chores with minimal human interaction. This has culminated in feelings of anxiety, loneliness, stress, and depression.

3. A Matter of Job Security

The pandemic has damaged the economy and disrupted business cycles. Organizations in India have resorted to layoffs, salary cuts, and deferred promotions and bonuses. With people losing their jobs, businesses suffering, the current psychological resilience of individual employees and teams in India has been shaken to its core.

Other primary causes that have compounded anxiety, stress, and depression during this time are:

  • Vast changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Concern about financial stability and job security
  • Worry about the health of family members or friends
  • Worsening of pre-existing mental and chronic health conditions
  • Overconsumption of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other substances

Ensuring Mental Well-being
Tips for Employees, HR Managers, and Leaders

Employees
Do with what you have. Focus on the moment even though times are uncertain.
Find ways to reset and relax. Record every good thing that happens to you.
Talk to people you trust. Don’t judge yourself too harshly or dismiss your concerns.
Don’t submit to anyone pressuring you. Pace yourself and stick to your plan.
Try to vary your schedule so that you encounter unique situations every time.
Try something new and challenging. But don’t overexert yourself if you falter.
Talk to your manager if you’re anxious about going back to work or doing odd shifts.
Come up with a plan to manage and control things that cause fear and anxiety.

 

HR Managers
Normalize mental health challenges. Share your mental health struggles as a leader so that your subordinates feel comfortable sharing their problems.
Lead by example. Don’t just say you support mental health. Tell your team members what you do on a personal level to battle stress, anxiety, and depression.
Check-in with employees regularly. Ask if they need any support. Listen to what they have to say and encourage concerns and questions.
Practise inclusive flexibility. Have a customized approach for every employee so that the stressors can be identified and addressed. Be generous and proactively offer flexibility.
Inform employees about any organizational reforms or changes. Prioritize what is important and what can slide. Share mental health resources and encourage them to utilize them.

 

Organizational Leaders
You can’t help employees if you don’t know how they’re doing. Ask them how they are. Be the first to open the doors and let them approach however they want.
Let them know that they’re not alone in the fight. Practice supportive listening. Hear their concerns, try to genuinely understand and share how you’re personally handling the new normal.
Communication has to be regular and consistent to ensure that the employees feel supported in the crisis. Employees are also more likely to talk about mental health issues with their managers. As a leader, ensure in-line managers are effective communicators.
Understand the sentiment of your workforce. Enable pulse surveys to know how employees, teams, departments, and the organization as a whole are doing.
Share all resources on mental health with every employee. Be proactive when letting them know how to access the resources — a majority of employees are more likely to say that you care about their wellbeing if you do so.
Invest in preventive and proactive training modules. on workplace mental health for organizational leaders, managers, and individuals. They will be better equipped to navigate uncertainty and address employee concerns regarding mental health.
Update policies and practices. You can take a closer look at rules around flexible hours, paid and unpaid leaves, email & other forms of communication. Rework performance reviews so that it includes more constructive feedback than strict targets.

There’s no saying when the problems related to mental well-being as a result of the pandemic will end. Although it will be controlled in the time to come, the after-effects will be felt for some time. For now, all we can do is keep productivity high and work through this with openness, honesty, and compassion. In time, from the lessons that we have learnt, there’s no doubt that individuals, leaders, and organisations will emerge better and stronger than ever before.

 

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