Supporting your workforce’s mental health is important

Noel McDermott on how to help employees post virus.

There’s no mistaking that the coronavirus pandemic has created a mental health crisis in the UK and the outbreak has created a significant impact on our workforce. Back in 2015, mental ill health cost the economy £5.4bn and 91% of those who developed mental health problems at work never returned to the workforce

Now is the time for organisations to plan for post viral mental health issues and put helpful tools in place to address the productivity issues associated with mental ill health.

As a matter of course if any employees have reported having had or suspecting themselves of having had Covid 19 and then go on to report absences that are related to mental health issues, this should trigger a HR occupational health (OH) process to investigate.

This should be done in a sensitive way but with the aim of determining if the staff member has post viral syndrome or post viral fatigue.

Post viral syndrome can become a chronic illness called chronic fatigue syndrome: Things to look out for in your occupational health assessment should be known to your OH service doctor but may not be looked at if the process you trigger is simply a mental health one.

Now’s the time to really invest in workplace mental health provision, staff health and wellbeing.

The psychological symptoms will appear as depression and anxiety, but it will not respond to mental health treatment process alone. This can lead to wasted time and entrenchment of the problems leading to the condition possibly becoming chronic. 

In April this year over 30% of adults reported levels of mental distress such as depression, indicative that treatment may be needed. Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health conditions and are easily treatable, needing early intervention to ensure that it does not become chronic and treatment resistant.

Such mental health conditions affect not only the employee’s productivity and happiness, but that of his or her co-workers. Poor mental health can be very costly for a business.

Knowledge about post viral syndrome conditions and mental health issues is a very useful thing so that employers can ensure they trigger the appropriate OH pathway.

Post viral mental health problems include sleep problems, muscle or joint pain, headaches, sore throat/glands that are swollen, problems thinking or remembering, flu-like symptoms, feeling dizzy or sick and palpitations. It is likely that you will also see changes in behaviour and in the quality of work being produced by the employee.

Organisations should encourage their HR teams to understand these issues. it can lead to early identification and appropriate specialist intervention which will ensure the mental health services used work closely with medical services and rehabilitation services.

For companies that are dealing with staff whom you would normally fund medical and mental health services through insurance, this advice and approach is particularly relevant. With employees for whom the NHS is the main health service supplier, you can ensure they go informed and armed to gain appropriate rehabilitation services via their GP.

Signs that there may be need of professional help are if there are problems in functioning that are persistent over a two-week period. Periodic anxiety or depression lasting a short period of time is to be expected and will generally shift of their own accord if general mental hygiene/lifestyle is resilient.

If it continues for days and weeks, then there is likely to be a problem needing proper diagnosis and treatment. Organisations should ensure that staff have a range of support, arrange long term recovery, and move from a treatment model to a rehabilitation model of support.

Investment in both mental health provision and staff health and wellbeing should be a propriety issue for businesses now more than ever.


About the author

Noel McDermott is a psychotherapist. Find out more at


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