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Stress and anxiety have peaked over the past 12 months in Hong Kong and the United States – both of which have been hit by the global coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest – and other parts of the globe.

Just published research by One Mind at Work and the Society for Human Resources Management has garnered insights from senior HR leaders on the mental health of their teams during 2020.

“This year has brought a climate of overwhelming uncertainty – concerns about health and safety, anxiety about the economy and personal finances, have created a state of emotional pressure unlike any we have ever encountered,” the white paper states.

“However, prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, data regarding mental health treatment and support already showed significant challenges – including that of the one in five people who live with a mental health condition, 60% did not receive any mental health services in 2019.”

An interest takeaway from the report was how the duration of the pandemic is intensifying mental health issues, with second and subsequent waves of the virus taking a significant toll (see chart below).

covid impact timeline

Insights from top employers

Fighting stigma
While the observations are from a US-based cohort, they have a particular resonance in Hong Kong and other jurisdictions in Asia, given how mental health issues are still a taboo in many organisations.

Employers consider reducing stigma as a core priority, especially to make employees aware of – and use – mental health programmes within the organisation. One of the crucial ingredients that encourage help-seeking behaviour is self-identification – to understand that what the employee is experiencing is a mental health issue and that talking to a mental health professional could help to reduce the effects.

Here’s what some top employers are saying about their mental health initiatives.

"We know that when employees build resilience and develop tools to respond to stress, their well-being stabilises. That's why we've been focused on giving Googlers a range of mental health resources that they might need to invest in themselves during difficult times." – Yu-Lin Gardner, Google.

“We have been struck by the willingness of people to open-up about mental health challenges once we started the dialogue.” – Sarah Shaffer, Dolby Laboratories, Inc.

“Our entire HR department is going through mental health training before the end of the year.” – Tammy Fennessy, American Eagle.

Training for HR
 
People managers can benefit from being aware of the early warning signs of mental health conditions, knowing how to talk with a colleague who appears to be struggling and what mental health resources are available to provide support.

Management behaviours also have a significant impact on building a mentally healthy culture, especially if they grasp the impact of mental health on productivity and performance.  

Leadership presentations
According to the report, “Leadership within organisations is a driver of the adoption and improvement of practices and programs that support workplace mental health. Employers are demonstrating a strong commitment from leadership to workplace mental health through open and candid conversations.”

Employers have observed that in the current environment, it has been beneficial for leaders to share their own personal struggles with work-life balance, anxiety and stress, and other issues as these experiences are felt across all levels of the company.

One of the essential aspects of these discussions has been to demonstrate to employees that they can encounter mental health challenges and still be successful in the organisation. Caring employers are looking for tools to help remove the stigma that can act as a hurdle for employees in recognising their own mental health state.