For many across the world, the last year has been the most stressful time they have ever experienced because of the raging Covid-19 pandemic which is having a major impact on the health and economic wellbeing of people.
According to psychologists, unfortunate events like the ongoing pandemic could take a big toll on the mental health of such people who are unable to cope with the circumstances created by the crisis. It is a worrisome sign in that disorders like stress, anxiety, depression are growing among businesspersons and professionals.
“It has been observed that the economic uncertainty and loss in business have translated into stress and anxiety for many businesspersons. These types of disorders are most common in office goers who have to directly deal with their clients for meeting financial targets. The professionals who do not have permanent jobs are anxious and are in fear of losing their source of income,” says Pradip Parajuli, a psychologist and life and wellness coach. He says that the feeling of uncertainty, meaninglessness of life, fear, stress, anxiety and depression can be seen among those suffering from psychological distress. “The economic consequences of the pandemic have brought changes in behaviour and attributes of many people. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions are more susceptible to stressors associated with the Covid-19 pandemic,” he mentions.
Various researches have shown that socioeconomic disadvantage is consistently associated with poor mental health. The economic distress can negatively lead people who are facing such issues to a series of unhealthy and risky coping strategies to deal with new stressors.
Talking about the psychological stress faced by the banking employees, Amit Sharma, head of human resource at Laxmi Bank, says that even under these unprecedented situations, many of his bank colleagues continued reporting to duty despite facing several difficulties. “So, it is obvious to experience psychological pressures during times like these. It was primarily a degree of anxiety arising due to concerns about the health and safety of our family members. As we coped with the situation and became more aware of Covid-19, such pressures subsided,” he says.
According to experts, the economic consequences of the pandemic and work stress during these times can have a long-term impact on the mental health of people. If the pandemic-induced mental health issues are not addressed and treated properly, the conditions might deteriorate over time, they say. “Generally, severe forms of mental disorders like chronic depression, acute anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, alcohol and drug abuse, etc. are observed, among the people who have undergone economic and other types of hardships,” states Parajuli. He says that that these types of problems should be identified and treated in the initial stages to ensure a higher degree of recovery in patients. “The problems can alter the thinking and belief of people facing such mental illnesses, and they might not be ready for treatment due to trust issues,” says Parajuli.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), bereavement, isolation, loss of income, and fear of the ongoing pandemic are triggering different types of mental health issues worldwide. Many people have been facing increased levels of alcohol and drugs abuse, insomnia and anxiety.
For corporate institutions in Nepal, paying attention to the mental health of their staff has grown in importance. Sharma of Laxmi Bank says that the problems created by the pandemic have forced many organisations to also take care of the psychological wellbeing of their employees. “We were not prepared for a crisis of this magnitude. Initially, it took us some time to respond,” he shares.
Laxmi Bank is among the few organisations in Nepal to initiate a mental health awareness campaign to help their employees to manage their work stress and stay mentally fit. The bank has focused on exploring ways so that staff can minimise the risks of coronavirus contagion both at workplaces and their homes. Laxmi Bank has also researched the impacts of the pandemic on the mental health of its employees and has arranged many counselling sessions and programmes. “Our focus is on continuous communication and better health and safety of employees,” says Sharma.
The survey has given the bank’s management some insights into the mental health issues faced by the employees and prompted them to take necessary steps. According to Sharma, based on the survey, they conducted sessions with experts to better understand what was ‘normal’ in these situations and if there are issues which needed immediate attention. “We even provided access to such counselling sessions to our staff if they felt that they needed support,” informs Sharma.
Laxmi Bank has organised stress management and yoga sessions for its staff. The bank even allowed family members of employees to join the yoga sessions. “We have always prioritised the health of our staff over other things,” says Sharma.
During the lockdown, the bank implemented work from home (WFH) modality wherever possible for the safety of the staff. “But there were still some responsibilities that couldn’t be performed from home. During the initial days of the pandemic, bank employees who had to report to the office felt some degree of stress,” says Sharma, adding, “However, as the understanding about Covid-19 increased and employees of the bank learned that they could avoid infections by following basic safety protocols, things became easier.”
According to experts, the term ‘mental health’ is often misunderstood and people are not too concerned about it. Parajuli thinks that the present-day situation has demanded organisations to give some priority to organise mental health related sessions and awareness programmes within their institutions. “Organisations can form support groups and networks to work on the psychological wellbeing of their staff,” suggests Parajuli.
According to him, there are many forms of counselling and consulting to address psychological problems. But the enormous magnitude of the Covid-19 crisis has required organisations to pay special attention to devise strategies. “The traditional approach of ‘how are you feeling?’ and ‘how may I help you?’ simply do not work in the context of the current situation of economic slowdown,” opines Parajuli adding, “Perhaps, individual counselling, career counselling, acceptance commitment therapy (ACT), solution focused approach, etc. might be required to assist the individuals to overcome the mental health issues created by the economic fallout of the pandemic.”