Coronavirus support: Advice and guidance for businesses COVID-19 Support

Mental Health and Wellbeing

As a result of stress and uncertainy caused by the current situation, the need to consider the mental wellbeing of you and your employees has never been more important.

To help you manage this during Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) and beyond we have produced a guide that offers businesses support and guidance, by signposting the best resources to help you manage this important issue during the crisis.

Drawing upon resources from the NHS, Mind and other recognised bodies and organisations, our guide will help you to navigate the support that is available as well as detailing preventative techniques that individuals use to manage their mental health.

If are worried about your business at this time, you can speak to a business adviser for free here at SEMLEP’s Growth Hub. Call 0300 01324 35 or email [email protected] with any questions.

Mental Health and Wellbeing Resources Pack: Support for individuals & businesses

1. What is mental health?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. In WHO’s constitution, it is clear that mental health is an integral part of people’s overall health and therefore it is important to not only address the needs of individuals with defined mental disorders (depression, anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, bipolar disorder and psychosis), but also to safeguard and promote the mental health of all people.

2. How can a pandemic affect people’s mental health?

During a pandemic it may be necessary for an individual to have prolonged or intermittent periods of isolation to protect themselves from transmission of a virus or disease. Studies have found that humans require frequent social contact to stay happy and healthy – this need intensifies during crisis events. Prolonged periods of social isolation  can therefore negatively impact an individual’s mental health leading to depression and emotional distress.

Even in cases where an individual can self-isolate with others, the feelings of lack of control, isolation and ‘cabin fever’ can be powerful. Emotional distress is common both during quarantine and the period that follows*
*Douglas, Pamela & Douglas, David & Harrigan, Daniel & Douglas, Kathleen. (2009). Preparing for pandemic influenza and its aftermath: Mental health issues considered. International journal of emergency mental health. 11. 137-44

According to the United Nations’ Inter-Agency Standing Committee, during the current COVID-19 quarantine people may :

Frontline workers (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, ambulance drivers etc.) may also experience additional stressors such as:

The impact on mental health can continue to be seen after the passing of a pandemic. This can include individuals exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, increased stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. Fear of stigma, social exclusion and discrimination may be experienced by individuals who are from, or perceived to be from, areas or countries where the virus originated.*

*Douglas, Pamela & Douglas, David & Harrigan, Daniel & Douglas, Kathleen. (2009). Preparing for pandemic influenza and its aftermath: Mental health issues considered. International journal of emergency mental health. 11. 137-44

There is also some evidence showing the negative long-term consequences of quarantine including substance abuse and alcohol dependency. WHO have raised awareness on this and advise against excessive consumption of alcohol.

3. Guidance for individuals

It is important to remember that people deal with things in different ways. Everyone is experiencing their own challenges during this time and will need to find what works best for them in terms of self-care. Guidance and advice has been issued to the public to support their mental health and wellbeing and recommendations include:

1. Connecting with others and talking about your worries

This could be talking with friends and family in your household via phone call or digital channels, or reaching out to specialist helplines for support.

2. Looking after your body

This includes maintaining a healthy diet, staying active and sleeping well. The WHO have released food and nutrition tips, as well as tips on staying active during quarantine. BlindAlive also have a suite of audio exercise programmes for the visually impaired. Guidance is also available via the NHS’ Every Mind Matter’s sleep page for people experiencing trouble sleeping.

3. Looking after your mind

Keeping an active mind during quarantine is important to avoid any overthinking. This could include doing activities such as reading, writing, drawing or painting amongst others; further tips and tools can be found here. Staffordshire University have an extended activity menu which you can access here (pages 3-6). Mindfulness is also a useful practice which can help reduce worrying and anxiety; the NHS provides further details on mindfulness here. A series of mindful exercises and games for children can also be seen here.

4. Staying on top of difficult feelings

Feeling concerned during the coronavirus outbreak is completely normal. However, some individuals may experience intense anxiety interfering with their day to-day activities – in these instances the ‘AWARE’ technique can be used to manage this. There are many resources available to help manage unhelpful feelings, such as the “Every Mind Matters” page; the breathing exercises for stress management on the NHS page, and advice on coping with stress on the WHO’s guidance poster.

A self-isolation journal recovery pack can be found here with useful checklists and exercises designed to help identify coping strategies and distraction techniques.

During times of uncertainty it can be easy to feel powerless and anxious over the lack of control of events.  The ‘Circle of Influence and Control’ is an effective tool which can be used to help manage these feelings. Manchester Metropolitan University have provided a short overview on how to use this which can be found  here.

5. Setting limits around news

The constant media coverage of COVID-19 can seem overwhelming and distressing. It is advisable not to spend an excessive amount of time monitoring the news and to only obtain information from credible, reputable sources. Do remember that the media will always put a negative slant on stories as this gains more attention, sells more papers and attracts more viewers – bad news is more profitable than good news.

For the latest information and advice on COVID-19, visit the UK Government’s website for Coronavirus and the NHS website.  A WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Service is also available – to access the service, users will have to add the following number (+447860 064422) to their mobile phone contacts and message the word “hi” to this number. More details about the service can be viewed here.

A visual resource to help people review the news can be found here.

6. Setting goals and objectives

Setting specific personal goals can motivate individuals and offer a sense of ‘something to look forward to’. By working through and achieving these goals, a person can feel more productive and have a sense of purpose. Having a sense of purpose has been known to assist individuals in overcoming stress, depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders*
*Schippers MC, Ziegler N. Life Crafting as a Way to Find Purpose and Meaning in Life. Front Psychol. 2019;10:2778. Published 2019 Dec 13. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02778

7. Maintaining a sense of hope, positive thinking and helping others

Helping others and volunteering one’s time can be extremely rewarding and a highly effective way of improving a person’s mood. This could be as simple as reaching out to friends and family to help or volunteering at local or national organisations. Volunteering opportunities and information can be found using the links below:

Government guidance on how to volunteer safely can be seen here.

*Growth Hubs can also look into developing a dedicated webpage to provide information on region specific volunteering opportunities and ways that individuals can support the fight against COVID-19, as seen through Greater Manchester’s example: www.businessgrowthhub.com/coronavirus/resources/2020/04/coronavirus-what-can-we-do-to-help-efforts-to-tackle-the-coronavirus-crisis*

There are a number of websites dedicated to publishing solely positive news stories, such as Good News Network, which are often overlooked by the mainstream media. Reading these can help put things into perspective and help an individual maintain a more positive outlook. There are also many podcasts which focus on mindset, wellbeing and motivation which can be helpful for a daily boost of positivity and calm.

8. Maintaining a positive work/life balance

Working from home can present its own challenges, especially for those who are doing this for the first time.  It can be very easy for the lines between work life and personal life to blur, with employees feeling that they can never ‘switch off’ and relax.

Some suggestions for working from home include:

Additional resources

4. Guidance for businesses and employers

Guidance for line managers

In a time of crisis, leadership plays an important role in the way that an organisation responds. This section includes advice for line managers to help them support the mental health and wellbeing of their team.

 1. Communicate
To reduce the sense of isolation when working from home, managers need to ensure the lines of communication are always open. It is important to keep staff regularly updated regarding the business’ response to the pandemic, together with any appropriate government or public health guidelines. Line managers should:

  • Encourage people to talk about mental health and provide a non-judgmental space for them to do so
  • Actively reach out colleagues – always remember to ask twice
  • Listen and show empathy – once a person knows they are being given the space and time to talk, they will
  • Take appropriate action if you think someone is at risk of harming themselves or is at risk of harm from someone else

For more information on how to manage conversations around mental health, see here.

2. Involve the team
Line managers should engage with staff and empower them to contribute ideas which may help improve operations during this period of disruption. Software such as Skype or Zoom can help promote communication and team building by allowing all of the team members to be visible to one another during a meeting or conversation.Activities such as the “How to Draw Toast” game can help teams unpack complex problems in a more collaborative and effective manner by understanding that having different views can have a positive effect and learning that combining features can lead to a great system.

3. Be agile and flexible
Business operations will need to be flexible and adaptable during the pandemic. Each person’s situation will be different and line managers should endeavor to accommodate appropriate working arrangements where possible, (such as employees with young children or those who care for family members for example).

4. Define objectives and expectations
Managers should provide clear, attainable goals for their team members and define what is expected of them. This will minimise uncertainty in terms of individuals’ roles and responsibilities and therefore reduce stress and anxiety. This may be no different to their usual work, but it will help them with structuring their day and provide a confidence boost when goals are achieved.

5. Signpost to mental health support
Line managers should look out for signs of emotional distress and refer staff to more structured support where necessary (either internal or external – see Section 6 in this document). In the event that someone is in urgent need of help, direct the individual to the Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) whose lines are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, or any other crisis helpline and listening service.

The British Safety Council offers a free Mental Health Awareness course providing practical skills to spot some of the signs of mental health disorders and the appropriate steps to take; they also offer free online courses on managing mental health and stress within teams. The mental health charity, Mind, have also published a guide on how to use wellness action plans to support the mental health of team members.

The pandemic may impact a furloughed employee’s mental health more than one who is continuing to work. Additional measures should be put in place to support these individuals during the furlough period such as regular wellbeing calls, weekly virtual social activities and encouraging the use of the Employee Assistance Programme, if available. City Mental Health Alliance UK have created a useful guide on this, here.

Additional Resources

 

Guidance for businesses and company actions

For businesses who do not already have a policy in place, now is the time to set out a formal approach to staff mental health and wellbeing across all areas. This will create a culture of ‘open-ness’ where staff feel safe to share their thoughts and can support one another without judgement.

These next steps could include:

  1. Creating a staff page or forum on the company intranet where employees can stay connected
  2. Creating a folder on the company shared drive with a list of mental health resources and support. (Any new folder or page created should be easily accessible by staff who have been furloughed.)
  3. Inviting conversations between staff and management teams to develop a mental health strategy
  4. Training and Implementing Mental Health First Aiders, (this may not be possible in the current environment, due to COVID-19 restrictions), establishing Mental Health Champions in the workplace, as well as setting up smaller scale “Time to Talk” sessions between line managers and staff and/or between peer groups
  5. Arranging for mental health awareness training and support for both managers and team members
  6. Investing in an Employee Assistance Programme which can provide access to counselling and additional resources. To help small businesses (1-100 employees) during COVID-19, 87percent are offering free access to their confidential employee mental wellbeing platform until the end of June 2020 (Free access codes are also provided to those aged 18-24).

Some of these actions will require additional time and cost to roll out on a larger scale, however, the investment will demonstrate the company’s commitment to the wellbeing of its employees.

Additional Resources

5. Social Media Assets


In light of the effects of COVID-19 on mental health, several organisations have launched awareness campaigns that companies can become involved with.

Public Health England has launched this campaign to encourage adults to look after their mental health, using the “Every Mind Matters” platform and its self-care resources. The campaign resources include a PR toolkit with suggested social media posts, accompanying graphics, web banners, email signatures and others.

This government campaign has been launched to tackle loneliness during the coronavirus lockdown. The campaign includes a downloadable toolkit and resources.

The WHO has released guidance to support mental health during the social distancing period, as well as published social graphics which can be used to raise awareness

A business may also choose to create their own bespoke campaign, with tailored graphics and region or sector specific content, to promote their mental health and wellbeing approach in the workplace.

Recommendations – ideas for social posts

Social posts:

  • With information on support available in the region of interest
  • With information on support available in sector(s) of interest
  • Explaining mental health
  • Explaining how the pandemic can affect people’s mental health
  • With tips and tools available to improve mental health
  • With quotes from credible sources on mental health
  • Case studies from staff or clients having implemented successful
    mental health strategies

The above information could take several formats including blog posts, articles, graphics, fact sheets, gifs or infographics amongst others.

Local authorities and growth hubs could look to develop partnerships with local NHS organisations, local emergency services or local voluntary organisations to offer a coordinated regional response on mental health. This has been done in Manchester through the Greater Manchester Mayor’s agreement with the Health and Social Care Partnership to offer new mental health services for people affected by social restrictions in the region.

The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site.

6. Support resources

General

 

To find mental health support services near you, see here. A range of self-help leaflets is also available here.

For parents / carers:

For young people:

For older adults:

Bereavement support:

Abuse and Domestic violence support:

*Notice* The household isolation rules do not apply in the event of domestic abuse.

Addiction support:

For people severely affected by mental illness:

LGBT support:

Healthcare workers support:

Support for people with disabilities:

Support for autistic people: