Mental Health in the Age of COVID-19: Insights for Leadership

By Ambre Lelievre

Over the past sixteen months, the pandemic has inflicted stress, adversity and trauma on the global population. However, LGBTIQ+ individuals have been disproportionately affected.  May might be Mental Health Awareness Month, but we want to encourage leaders to prioritise mental health all year long. So let’s take a look at how leaders can cultivate flourishing over languishing. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was declared a global public health emergency in January 2020 (x). Within the months that followed, psychologists, especially those specialised in trauma and crisis, started to anticipate the mental health crisis that the pandemic would instigate. In England alone, it is said that 10 million people will likely need new or supplementary mental health support (x). Researchers started investigating how people’s mental health was coping (or not) in the face of the pandemic. Generally speaking, social isolation, job loss, increased relational stress and uncertainty resulted in heightened depression, loneliness, anxiety, suicide ideation, and post-traumatic stress disorder (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Read: A trauma psychologist weighs in on the risks of 'motivational' pressure during quarantine

The LGBTIQ+ community has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic; in their survey, the KFF found that 74% of LGBT respondents reported that the stress from the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health, while significantly fewer non-LGBT respondents felt this way (49%) (x). Then, LGBT Hero’s survey of over two thousand LGBTIQ+ individuals provides a snapshot of the impacts at play. The survey found that the mental health of those surveyed had been significantly impacted, with experiences of depression and anxiety practically doubling (x). An epidemic of loneliness was identified, with 56% of all respondents feeling lonely during lockdown. Within which, 67% of the under 18s felt lonely "very often" or "every day". Researchers noted that part of the isolation was due to folks having to experience lockdown in homes in which they were not accepted (x, x). LGBT Hero also found that “Black and South Asian LGBTQ+ people were more than twice as likely to experience violence or abuse during lockdown compared to white LGBTQ+ people” (x). The dire mental health situation that LGBTIQ+ individuals have found themselves in calls for more comprehensive mental health services, as well as healthcare systems, and further research into their experiences -- as to inform initiatives to provide care in the future.
Read: The LGBTQ+ Lockdown Wellbeing Report

 

 

 

For too long, lack of mental illness was considered as equating to mental health. We’re inviting you to consider mental health as a spectrum -- from languishing to flourishing (x).  This notion is well recognised in positive psychology, wherein Dr Martin Seligman champions the importance of PERMA (x) to facilitate the progression from languishing to flourishing. Each component has a distinct role in cultivating emotional, social and psychological wellbeing.

 

 

Some of the positive emotions which leaders can help foster are gratification, optimism and self-esteem. By being both task and relation oriented, all the while upstanding a transformational leadership style, leaders can more easily cultivate positive emotions in the workplace (x). 

Meanwhile, engagement can be cultivated by guiding employees into the flow state. In a reality where remote work is mandatory (and relatively new) to many, offering advice on how to find a balance and flow with one’s work is vital. Clearly marking the end of the work day and the resumption of private life, communicating honestly about remote-work related things*, carving time aside for relaxation and curating a good night's sleep are all factors which can help create a balance (x). 

In terms of relationships, the focus is on allowing flexibility for employees to meet and exchange in a meaningful way within their relationships. Whether it’s setting up casual company calls for everyone to chat over tea, or accepting that staff need to sign off a bit earlier to take care of a loved one. This coincides into meaning, the element which champions fulfillment, contribution, and belonging. Employees can be supported and guided to identify what elements of their work intrinsically motivates them. 
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Lastly, accomplishments reside on goals, success, and mastery. Leaders and supervisors could discuss with their employees what their aspirations are, moving the focus away from key performance indicators and economic outcomes. Supporting your team for those ‘small wins’ and bringing the focus on their strengths, can have considerable positive effects on work culture. 

Mental health and wellbeing will continue to be important considerations for leaders. Choosing to acknowledge it and foster flourishing will have significant impacts. Not only on their team’s productivity, creativity and happiness but undoubtedly the rest of their team’s lives, as our jobs are typically where we spend the most of our week. We hope that the information presented in this article can help leaders, and employees alike, consider how they can further cultivate positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment in their lives. 

 

* eg. having to take care of children, getting fresh air, or preparing lunch

 

 

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