How to ensure COVID-19 doesn't have a lasting impact on your mental health

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Chris Biggs, Managing Director of accounting consultants Theta, provides tips on how to help maintain mental health if you're working from home again.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said today that Coronavirus has fuelled a 'looming' mental health crisis with two-fifths of sufferers only getting help in an emergency.  Experts said waiting times for mental health services could "get a lot worse", warning that more than one in 10 patients are waiting six months for help. 

Polling of 500 adults with mental illness found that two in five deteriorated so badly while waiting for NHS care that they had to get help from emergency or crisis services. More than one in 10 ended up in Accident and Emergency, the survey found. 

Worries around Coronavirus have impacted working people beyond the medical issues as research from the Open Up 2020 Challenge reveals money worries are negatively impacting the mental health of nearly one quarter (23%) of the population. In fact, one in five (21%) say financial stress is having a bigger impact on their mental wellbeing than physical health concerns during the Covid-19 crisis. 

This World Mental Health Day 2020 will be more poignant than ever, with vast swathes of society being negatively impacted by COVID-19, from pensioners to students, CEOs to furloughed staff. With the job retention scheme due to come to an end at the end of October, money worries and job security are more evident than ever before for thousands. 

Professional services

With mental health concerns rising across society, it should not come as a surprise that those in professional services are also at risk of stress, anxiety and even depression. This is a difficult time for people who have not even been directly affected by the Coronavirus, never mind those who have tragically lost family and friends; so, it is more important than ever to look after our mental health and be there for one another. 

In the accountancy space, for example, furlough, changes to tax, end of the calendar year, and all kinds of loans and grants have made the situation different to most other end-of-financial-year periods; giving stress and anxiety the opportunity to rear their heads. 

In management consulting, anxiety is on the rise due to the growing risk of jobs disappearing. Amid the fall in demand, clients are cutting back on consultancy expenses, typically regarded as a discretionary cost. According to the latest estimates, the consulting industry will contract by around 18% this year, meaning that consultancies will be seeking to downsize their teams.

As we have been ushered back to the kitchen table, home desks, and virtual desktops, millions of Brits find themselves back to working alone, days of Zoom calls and a merging of work and personal life. Here are my tips on how you can adjust the new working environment to help look after your own mental health.

Think flexibly

Flexible working, which allows people to balance their family and professional commitments, gives people the opportunity to focus on one task at a time. Trying to work at home in the company of small children is difficult, so try and work, if your manager allows you to, around your family commitments. This will help you to focus on the job at hand and make you more present for both your family and your team at work. 

Remember to sign off

Working at home during the lockdown period has meant that many people have been working above and beyond their normal hours. This may look like dedicated, hard work but after a certain point, it is simply presenteeism; sign off, utilise your evenings to recharge and be more productive the next day.

Keep social

While we can only meet up in groups of six, keeping in contact with all of your team members is difficult and could be for some time. Organise work quizzes, social video drinks or a working lunch. It will help to relieve stress and relax you and your team. End of the week socials are a great thing to look forward to and can help you to forget the stresses and strains of the working week.

Across the sector, individual companies have already begun to make changes. Many have launched a series of initiatives and activities to promote the importance of mental and physical wellbeing during this period. The activities available include training mental health first aiders to help them to support staff through our new working environments with virtual yoga sessions as well as wellbeing talks during ‘lunch and learn’ events. 

So long as actors, individual companies, managers and business leaders continue to have the conversation about mental health, continuing to work at home and going back to the office in the new year will be easier. COVID-19 has had a profound and lasting effect on all of us, but with the right action, we can attempt to avoid the pandemic having negative and long-lasting implications on our mental health.

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