logo
Table of Contents

Supporting Mental Health of Employees During and Beyond COVID-19

Section FiveDownload this section
Putting it All Together

01

The Three Ps:

AAs you integrate mental health into your COVID-19 recovery plan, it is important to remember that you can support your employees in a variety of ways. These three “Ps” will help you be most effective - Protect, Promote and Provide.

At an organizational level, leaders and managers can PROTECT employee mental health by reducing work-related risk factors for mental health problems. At this level, you are aiming to develop and implement practices and policies that PROTECT mental health by preventing exposure to stress and situations that could cause mental distress or mental health problems.

You also want to PROMOTE good mental health by supporting routines and structure amidst uncertainties. When you PROMOTE coping skills, employee strengths, and positive capabilities, you are strengthening your employees’ resilience and capacity to thrive even in difficult times.

Effective leaders and managers also PROVIDE opportunities for employees to talk about mental health needs and PROVIDE access to mental health services by knowing what is available within your organization and facilitating connection to resources for employees who are struggling with mental health concerns.

Common Mental Health Concerns

Even when an organization has a comprehensive and integrated strategy for mental health in the workplace, leaders and managers should anticipate that some employees will experience mental health concerns and mental disorders that will require care and attention. Here are some common mental health concerns related to COVID-19 that you should anticipate among employees. In the following sections, you can learn more about what to expect, why it matters and what you can do.

03

Mental Health Concern/Impacts

  1. Fear and Worry
  2. Common Mental Disorders
  3. Physical and Cognitive Concerns
  4. Interpersonal Violence and Domestic Abuse
  5. Alcohol and Other Substance Misuse
  6. Grief and Loss
  7. Burnout
  8. Suicide Risk
1. | Fear and Worry

04

A. What to Expect

  • Some degree of fear and worry are to be expected from your entire workforce. The novel coronavirus is poorly understood, has no vaccine and no cure. It is the most severe global health crisis for a century. Uncertainty due to COVID-19 is all around us so it is natural that employees are concerned, overwhelmed, stressed, worried, and feeling afraid. These experiences may center on concerns related to the economy, employment, finances, relationships, and of course, physical and mental health.

B. Why it Matters

  • Excessive fear and worry have the potential to exhaust employee coping strategies and negatively impact resilience. With the significant uncertainty associated with COVID-19, virtually everyone is in a heightened state of vigilance, which can be fatiguing over time. Reduced coping, compromised resilience, and increased fatigue have a negative impact on overall immune functioning that increases vulnerability related to COVID-19 as well as other health conditions. Effective leaders and company responses can have dramatic and positive impact in protecting employees from having these normative responses turn into serious health problems.

05

C. What You Can Do

  • Acknowledge and normalize the widespread and variable nature of fear and worry that employees are experiencing. Encourage employees to maintain or develop regular practices that reduce stress. These can include meditation, exercise, healthy eating and sleep routines, and engaging in social activities like book groups and walking clubs that support positive coping and resilience.
  • Encourage employees to use existing resources available through the company’s wellness program or Employee Assistance Program. Directly explain how the resources can help with COVID-19-related challenges. Model the use of these resources and share with employees how this kind of self-care has a positive impact on one’s own mental health. Acknowledge that such self-care can also help everyone around them at home and at work reduce stress and function at their best.
  • Provide frequent communications that anticipate stressful situations for employees. Communicate with authenticity and transparency about company plans that will impact work circumstances and cause potential stress for employees. Provide opportunities to hear from employees about company policies and practices related to managing COVID-19. Share encouraging messages with employees and make use of trusted resources that provide current and accurate information.
  • Check in with employees more often than usual to monitor fears, anxieties, and worries. Conveying empathy about stresses employees are experiencing, while encouraging appropriate use of breaks during the workday and time off to recharge has the potential to allay fears and anxieties and mitigate impact on employee health and functioning.
  • Provide tips to help employees reduce media exposure about COVID-19 to prevent overstimulation and fatigue. This can include reducing the amount of time spent reading or watching news, limiting notifications from social media platforms, and identifying a few trusted resources that provide accurate and non-sensationalized news updates.

Additional Resources

  • How to Overcome Fear and Anxiety (Source: Mental Health Foundation)
  • Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear, and Worry (Source: Help Guide)
  • Coping with Coronavirus: Managing Stress, Fear, and Anxiety (Source: NIH)
  • Coping with Outbreak Stress (Source: CDC)
  • Organizational Tools to Lessen Fear and Worry Among Health Provider Employees During Past Pandemics (Source: Psychiatric Services)
2. | Common Mental Disorders

06

A. What to Expect

  • The most common mental health conditions that are being reported in the context of COVID-19 are anxiety and mood disorders. Many individuals with these pre-existing mental health conditions are reporting a worsening of symptoms, and many individuals who have never had an anxiety or mood disorder are reporting significant and sustained symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is true for men and women of all ages, and the number of people reporting these symptoms is above historical norms. In addition, because of the recommendations around extra handwashing and strategies to be extra careful to reduce the transmission of the virus, individuals with obsessive compulsive symptoms are also reporting an exacerbation of symptoms.
  • Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioral disturbances. In the context of COVID-19, individuals are commonly reporting elevated rates of free floating anxiety, panic, and social anxiety. These symptoms can lead to the development of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia.
  • Depression refers to a grouping of disorders, including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression. The most common symptoms of depression are melancholy, severe mood swings associated with bipolar disorder, loss of pleasure, loss of energy, difficulty in concentrating, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unavoidable patterns of thoughts (obsessions) and/or actions (compulsions). COVID-19 is causing some individuals to report a worsening of obsessive thinking about germs and fear of illness and compulsive hand washing and cleaning. These symptoms are excessive compared to normal because they are especially frequent, intense, and feel overwhelming.

B. Why it Matters

  • Even before COVID-19, anxiety and depression were extremely common mental disorders impacting more than 15% of adults in any given year. Globally, they are the most prevalent disorders, and they cause the greatest amount of disability for adults. As such, these are the disorders that are most common in the workplace, and COVID-19 has increased risk for both these disorders, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder due to the significant stresses, uncertainty, dislocation, and disruption to people’s lives caused by the pandemic.
  • Anxiety and depression have a significant impact on decision making and judgment, sometimes leading to increased risk of error or injury.
  • Common mental disorders that go untreated have the potential to reduce immune functioning and can lead to other health problems. When people with debilitating anxiety and depression do not get the right care, they are at high risk for self-medicating with alcohol or other substances, which over time can cause significant additional health problems. In addition, untreated anxiety and depression are estimated to account for approximately 1/3 of all visits to a primary care provider. The common mental disorders are associated with chronic pain, including back pain and headaches, both of which can lead to severely compromised health and functioning and disability.
  • These disorders are also highly treatable and the earlier that individuals get help the better. When leaders and managers openly recognize mental health needs and when companies provide supports to employees to get the help they need, the time that individuals suffer is diminished and the impact of the mental health condition on one’s personal and work life is greatly reduced.

07

C. What You Can Do

  • Acknowledge that the stresses associated with COVID-19 may lead employees to feel elevated levels of anxiety and depression and provide psychoeducational materials that include relevant information in your wellness communications. Encourage employees to engage in self-care and promote company programs that support positive coping and resilience.
  • Educate employees about anxiety and mood disorders with educational materials and communications that clearly eliminate shame and stigma. These materials should help employees distinguish between normal fluctuations of feelings (everyone feels sad and anxious sometimes and especially in the context of COVID-19) and disorders that are having undue negative impact on an employee’s functioning.
  • Facilitate access to available supports, including self-help programs, peer-led initiatives, and Employee Assistance Program services.
  • Train supervisors to identify signs of anxiety and mood disorders. This requires developing the sophistication to distinguish between normative fluctuations of emotions and recognizing when symptoms of anxiety and depression are negatively impacting an employee’s functioning. Encourage supervisors to have supportive conversations with employees and address related job performance concerns.
  • In the context of COVID-19, leaders, managers, and supervisors will want to buttress their practice of checking in with employees, particularly those working remotely over extended periods of time and especially for employees with a known past history of an anxiety or mood disorder. This practice will promote early identification of the emergence of common mental health problems.
  • Encourage employees who are struggling with common mental health problems to seek help early, emphasizing that these are treatable disorders when individuals get appropriate care.
  • Demonstrate empathy and understanding about how difficult it may to take time to focus on these issues, especially given the added pressures of the pandemic. At the same time, encourage employees to pursue help, recognizing that benefits will accrue in both their personal and work lives when their mental health needs are properly addressed.

Additional Resources

  • Warning Signs for Depression and Anxiety (Source: APA)
  • COVID-19 vs. Your OCD Symptoms (Source: International OCD Foundation)
  • For People with Eating Disorders, COVID-19 Presents New Challenges (Source: APA)
  • Managing Someone with a Mental Health Condition (Source: Heads Up Australia)
  • Supporting Those with Mental Health Conditions during COVID-19 (Source: United Nations)
3. | Physical and Cognitive Concerns

08

A. What to Expect

  • People experience stress in a variety of ways that can affect them both physically and mentally. With the added pressure, disruption, and impact of the COVID-19 crisis, some employees may be experiencing somatic symptoms, including fatigue, sleep disruptions, headaches, muscle tension, gastrointestinal discomfort, and changes in appetite. For others, the stress may be affecting their thinking, making it harder for them to focus and concentrate, or impairing their problem solving and decision making abilities.

B. Why it Matters

  • Although most people are equipped to handle stress in short bursts, left unchecked, chronic stress can lead to burnout. It also places wear and tear on the body that can contribute to serious health conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, and depression. Similarly, mild to moderate symptoms can progress to musculoskeletal, digestive, and sleep disorders if unaddressed. With disrupted routines, social isolation, and increased stress, some employees have also engaged in unhealthy coping strategies, including eating behaviors that have further compounded the problem. The ongoing nature of the pandemic requires attention to emerging concerns now, before they become longstanding problems.
  • When employees are experiencing physical symptoms related to or made worse by the COVID-19 crisis, their job performance can suffer. In addition to increases in absenteeism, turnover, and use of medical leave, employees’ productivity can decline as a result of being tired, fatigued, or in physical discomfort while on the job.
  • Addressing cognitive issues is particularly important in light of the high levels of uncertainty and complexity that workers are facing in the current business environment. Employees who are struggling with attention and concentration may not only be less efficient but also more prone to make mistakes. Those whose problem-solving abilities are compromised may also make suboptimal decisions that have a negative impact on business outcomes.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has upended schedules, disrupted routines, and increased stress in ways that may be taking a toll on the amount and quality of sleep workers are getting. Sleep deprivation and fatigue, in addition to reducing job performance and posing long-term health risks for employees, can be a major risk factor for work-related accidents and injuries. One large study (Swean et al., 2003) found that highly fatigued workers were 70% more likely to be involved in accidents than those who reported low fatigue levels. Lack of sleep can also cloud employees’ thinking, slow their reaction time, and increase the number of errors they make (Source: Occupational Environmental Medical).

09

C. What You Can Do

  • Encourage employees to use existing resources available through the company’s wellness program or Employee Assistance Program and directly explain how the resources can help with COVID-19-related challenges. Specific topics to emphasize might include stress management, healthy sleep, diet and nutrition, and exercise. If possible, allow work time for employees to access these supports. Use multiple communication channels to provide clear information about the resources and how to access them. Normalize/destigmatize the use of these resources by having management visibly participate themselves and frame the supports as tools that can help everyone manage the additional stressors related to the pandemic, stay healthy, and function at their best.
  • Supervisors should check in with employees more frequently than usual to monitor progress, provide feedback, help think through decisions, and identify any emerging problems. Monitor employees’ workloads, stress levels, and use of time off. Encourage appropriate use of breaks during the workday and time off to recharge.
  • Provide tips to help employees minimize distractions (e.g., turning off pop-up email notifications), avoid multi-tasking (e.g., using a calendar to schedule one task at a time), and keep their work manageable (e.g., breaking work tasks into smaller steps).
  • Refer employees experiencing physical health concerns to their primary care doctor to rule out and/or address any underlying medical issues that could be causing symptoms.

Additional Resources

  • Sleep Education – Insomnia (Source: AASM)
  • What Workers and Employers Can Do to Manage Workplace Fatigue during COVID-19 (Source: CDC)
  • Simple Desk Exercises (Source: Posture People)
  • Can I Boost My Immune System? (Source: New York Times)
4. | Interpersonal and Domestic Abuse

10

A. What to Expect

  • The added stress of the pandemic, along with the resulting impact on people’s work and personal lives, have left some people feeling angry, scared, and out of control. This has the potential to increase acts of hostility, aggression, and in extreme cases, interpersonal violence in the workplace. Aggressive behavior can include shouting, intimidation, and threats, which can escalate to physical assaults if managers and human resources staff do not take action. Although extreme acts of workplace violence by disgruntled employees are the ones that make the news headlines, they are relatively rare. Similarly, contrary to popular belief, most acts of violence are not committed by people with mental illnesses, and people who have mental health concerns are no more likely than those in the overall population to engage in violence. Most incidents of violence at work are nonfatal and can involve clients, customers, employees, contractors, vendors, or domestic abuse that spills over into the workplace.
  • Research on previous disasters suggests that the associated stress can lead to higher rates of domestic abuse during and after the crisis. Shutdowns during the COVID-19 crisis may have required people who were experiencing abuse to stay at home, confined with the perpetrator in an unsafe situation without access to the social supports and protective environments they typically rely on. Domestic abuse can take a variety of forms, including physical and sexual violence, as well as emotional abuse, such as insults, humiliation, intimidation, coercion, and control. Although managers are usually unaware of challenges that may be occurring at home, people who perpetrate domestic abuse may target their partner in the workplace because they know when and where to find them.

B. Why it Matters

  • Experiencing or witnessing aggression in the workplace can have a significant impact on employee well-being, including their mental health. It can also negatively affect job performance, productivity, and morale and contribute to absenteeism and turnover. With everyone under increased stress during the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to ensure that tensions do not boil over at work and create an unsafe environment where health and productivity suffer.
  • Violence threatens employees’ safety at work, including the risk of physical and psychological harm. In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, incidents of workplace violence also contributed to reports of increased stress or depression and decreased morale, productivity, and trust in management and co-workers (Source: SHRM Survey Findings). Exposure to serious incidents can also lead to depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder for those who experienced or witnessed the event.
  • The social isolation and added pressures of the pandemic may have contributed to new cases of domestic abuse where none previously existed and worsened the situation for employees who were already experiencing problems. Domestic abuse is linked to a variety of serious health outcomes, including physical injuries, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic health conditions, as well as lost productivity at work. People who have experienced domestic abuse are also more likely to engage in behavior that pose health risks, such as tobacco use, unhealthy eating, and alcohol and other substance abuse.

11

C. What You Can Do

  • Acknowledge that tensions may be running high during the COVID-19 crisis and remind employees about expectations for civil and respectful interactions in the workplace. Have clear policies for what constitutes unacceptable behavior and communicate those policies clearly.
  • Address incidents of aggression early before they escalate. Ensure that you have a mechanism for employees to report aggressive or violent behavior and that employees know how to access and use it. Aggression and violence at work are typically underreported because employees do not believe any action will be taken or fear retaliation. It is important to create an environment where people feel comfortable raising concerns with management or human resources staff and believe the organization will take appropriate action.
  • The pandemic has resulted in many changes to work processes, including the need for new safety protocols. This is a good time to also review your policies and procedures related to security and violence prevention, as well as your emergency action plan. Involve employees, management, human resources staff, security personnel, and Employee Assistance Program experts in your review, make any necessary updates, and communicate the policies and procedures with employees.
  • Include information about domestic abuse in your employee health and wellness communications, and post information about assistance that is available, including helplines, text and chat support, and community-based organizations for people experiencing domestic violence.
  • Train managers to sensitively inquire about potential cases of domestic abuse, listen nonjudgmentally, respect confidentiality, offer support, and direct employees to available legal and counselling resources. Provide clear information to all employees about how to support a co-worker who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

Additional Resources

5. | Alcohol and Other Substance Use

12

A. What to Expect

  • While it is still too soon to get a clear picture of how the COVID-19 crisis will affect employees’ alcohol and substance use in the long term, there is early evidence that the pandemic has already changed people’s behavior. While some have cut back in an effort to stay healthy or because opportunities for social drinking were limited, others have increased their alcohol and other substance use as a way of trying to cope with stress, uncertainty, boredom, and loneliness. Research on previous crises points to an overall increase in alcohol consumption in the aftermath of disaster, which can cause or contribute to problems related to substance use. Therefore, it is likely that some employees have increased their alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, marijuana, and prescription pain medication use since the crisis began. Additionally, employees with substance use disorders or addictions may have had limited access to treatment, recovery programs, and social supports while physical distancing measures were in place and may be experiencing setbacks or relapses that require more intensive treatment.

B. Why it Matters

  • Employees who are using substances to cope with the stress of the pandemic may feel better in the moment, but without healthier stress management behaviors, increased substance use can add to employees’ stress and lead to more serious problems in the long run. Unhealthy habits also strengthen over time, so are easier to address early, before they become more ingrained.
  • Alcohol use can weaken the body’s immune response, so workers who are drinking heavily during the pandemic may be more susceptible to COVID-19 and have worse health outcomes if they do get sick.
  • Heavy alcohol use is linked to increased health problems, accidents and injuries, and interpersonal violence. It can also impair judgement and decision making and make existing mental health concerns worse. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, this can pose serious problems for worker health, safety, and job performance and make it even more difficult for employees to cope with the challenges they face both at home and at work.

13

C. What You Can Do

  • Acknowledge that employees may have increased their alcohol and other substance use during the COVID-19 crisis and include relevant information in your wellness communications. Remind employees of workplace policies related to alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use and encourage them to utilize available supports, including Employee Assistance Program services, smoking cessation resources, and workplace health promotion programs.
  • Train supervisors to identify signs of potential alcohol or other substance use problems, have supportive conversations with employees, and address related job performance concerns (Source: Canadian Centre for Addictions). Be sure managers are checking in with remote workers regularly and monitoring performance, since modified work arrangements during the pandemic may provide fewer opportunities for face-to-face contact, making it more difficult to identify employees who need help.
  • Encourage employees who are struggling with alcohol or other substance use during the COVID-19 crisis to talk to their primary care physician or health care professional about how to reduce and prevent problematic use of alcohol and other substances before it becomes more serious and/or how to be most successful with treatment if they are already in recovery or receiving services. Evidence-based approaches like Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) can help with early identification and intervention (Source: SAMHSA)
  • Have accurate information about your organization’s drug screening policy and practice. Share this information with relevant employees and provide clarity regarding the rationale for the organization’s policy. For instance, following a period of working from home, you can share with employees the potential for this time to be associated with increased risk of injury because of additional stressors in people’s lives. You can remind them about safety procedures and your organization’s alcohol and drug screening policy to prevent risk of injury for employees who work with heavy equipment or in high-risk position.
  • Changing behaviors can be difficult and take time, especially now, when people are dealing with the added pressures of the pandemic. Employees who need help with alcohol and other substance use may benefit from working with a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional who can help them identify triggers, patterns, and unhealthy coping strategies, and develop the skills they need make significant, sustainable behavior changes.

Additional Resources

  • Alcohol and COVID-19: What You Need to Know (Source: WHO)
  • Managing Drug and Alcohol Misuse at Work: A Guide for People Management Professionals (Source: CIPD)
  • COVID-19: Potential Implications for Individuals with Substance Use Disorders (Source: NIDA)
6. | Grief and Loss

14

A. What to Expect

  • Grief is a natural response to loss of someone or something important in our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic and response strategies have caused significant and varied losses for people around the world. In places hit the hardest by the virus, many individuals have lost a family member, friend, or co-worker to COVID-19. In many cases, due to precautionary procedures to contain the transmission of the virus, people were not able to be with loved ones when they were dying and were not able to say goodbye. In many places, loved ones were not able to engage in social and religious funeral traditions. These particular circumstances can make the grieving process more stressful and complicated. In addition to the loss of life, many people are experiencing losses in terms of their personal and professional routines and financial security, which can also lead to a form of grieving. The most widely recognized aspect of grief is the emotional response characterized by varying degrees of low mood and anxiety. Grief can also cause cognitive rumination, problems concentrating, somatic complaints, and decreased energy.

B. Why it Matters

  • We all experience loss in our lives, and grieving is natural. However, the pandemic has impacted millions of people’s lives in ways that has resulted in much higher rates of grief and loss than at other times in recent history.
  • Although individual employees will have particular and personal experiences of grief, COVID-19 allows for, and calls for, shared acknowledgement of the collective impact of the pandemic. When leaders and managers create authentic experiences that acknowledge the shared challenges, losses, and grief, it validates individual experiences and provides general social support, which has positive benefits in terms of overall well-being and coping of employees.
  • Individuals who have lost a loved one during COVID-19 are at increased risk for developing the common mental disorders of anxiety and depression. Those who had a past history of a mental disorder, including a problem with alcohol or other substance use, will be at particular risk for a worsening of symptoms or relapse.

15

C. What You Can Do

  • Leaders and managers can provide company-wide programs and communications that recognize the burden of the pandemic and describe the experience of loss and grief associated with COVID-19. Sharing information about the number of employees who have lost a loved one or family member due to COVID-19, for example, can reduce isolation and heighten everyone’s awareness about the common experience of loss and grieving at this time.
  • Share psychoeducational material with employees about loss and grieving and provide opportunities for employees to talk about their experience if they choose to do so. Allowing employees to talk about their emotional experience can have the positive benefit of reducing isolation and despair. Following best practices of conducting healing conversations can promote positive coping and resilience.
  • Educate employees about the difference between normal mourning and problematic grieving, and encourage employees to seek support if they are experiencing difficulty coping.

Additional Resources

7. | Burnout

16

A. What to Expect

  • Some employees can find themselves experiencing chronic work stress that, left unmanaged, can leave them physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted and disengaged, causing their job performance to suffer. ‘Burnout’ can affect anyone, but people whose work places them under lengthy and intensive pressure are especially vulnerable. Burnout can result in extreme fatigue which is not relieved by sleep, irritability, anger, sadness, and increased susceptibility to other health conditions.

B. Why it Matters

  • The pressure, anxiety, and uncertainty of COVID-19 can mean that some employees are working at high levels of intensity for both long intervals and outside of normal work hours.
  • The risk of burnout is high for employees who identify so strongly with their work – or pressure from work to which they feel compelled to respond - that they lack balance between their work life and personal life. Burnout can occur when employees experience what they feel is an unresolvable conflict between these aspects of their lives.
  • Employees with symptoms of burnout can appear to be coping well with high-intensity working for a period of time. However, the accumulation of pressures from both work and non-work sources can very quickly manifest themselves to colleagues as the person ‘crashes’ with exhaustion and fatigue, their work quality and productivity declines rapidly, and their capacity to cope is eroded precipitously. This endangers their wider health.

17

C. What You Can Do

  • Identify ways that your company can help employees manage chronic stress and avoid burnout during the COVID-19 crisis to make rapid changes to their work schedules to enable them to decompress, get some rest, and remove themselves from the immediate and most pressing causes of their stress at work.
  • If medical advice suggests that these employees should not return to the workplace, agree to an extended period of homeworking if this is possible, with a plan to keep in regular contact or adjust work demands as appropriate. Review these arrangements weekly.
  • Provide access to interventions such as mindfulness classes or online sleep programs which help employees find relief from the symptoms of burnout and allow them to build confidence and skill in self-managing burnout by recognizing the early signs (Source: Sleepio).

Additional Resources

8. | Suicide Risk

18

A. What to Expect

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, some employees with mental health problems may have an increased risk of thinking about dying by suicide or engaging in self-harm behaviors. This is because the high levels of stress that many are currently experiencing can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. People who are already in treatment for suicide risk may need additional support. This includes people who are having suicidal thoughts as well as those with a recent history of suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt. Other people may experience an intensification of existing or emerging mental health problems.

B. Why it Matters

  • Suicide and the distress surrounding it can be difficult for organizations to manage, even if the underlying causes of this distress are not related to work. Helping employees to get support if they are thinking about or at risk of suicide during COVID-19 is an important responsibility of employers. Doing this well and compassionately sends out a strong signal to the whole workforce that you take their well-being seriously.
  • Work can play a significant part in recovery for someone who has attempted suicide or is at risk by providing structure, a sense of purpose, and social interaction. As a manager or employer, you have an important role in ensuring an employee who has attempted suicide is supported to return to work and that the process is as safe and smooth as possible for everyone involved.

19

C. What You Can Do

  • While people at risk of suicide may try to hide how they are feeling, they often give out warning signs. You might notice changes in their behavior or be aware of events in their life that could be affecting them. Signs to look for include previous suicide attempt(s), talking about suicide, talking about being a burden to others, talking about feeling trapped or having unbearable pain, agitation, anxiety and/or irritability, trouble sleeping, changes in appearance, taking time off work, a recent stressful event or loss, social withdrawal/feeling alienated, or seeming preoccupied with an internal thought or problem.
  • Act immediately if you notice any warning signs or if another team member comes to you with concerns about a colleague. If you feel out of your depth, consider asking the person if you can contact someone else who could help. A colleague who has been trained in mental health first aid may be better placed to offer support, or you could help the person to call a crisis line.
  • A person returning to work after a suicide attempt is likely to feel isolated and alone. They may also feel ashamed or embarrassed. Any genuine care and concern you can offer will help the person feel connected and can lower the risk of another suicide attempt. Include them in meetings and social events or ask their opinion on work issues – anything to make them feel like a valued member of the team. A structured approach to returning to work is essential, and any plan should be a collaborative effort between the employee and manager. Start by setting realistic goals and objectives, as well as a process for monitoring their progress and fine-tuning the plan.