Covid-Related Mental Health Impact Should Not Be Underestimated

The announcement that the UK has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine will have come as welcome news for many. It now (hopefully) means that we can start returning to some semblance of normality once more and put the physical threat of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, behind us.

But while the approval of this vaccine marks a significant moment in our fight against Covid-19, the mental scars of the pandemic will last much longer.

Indeed, in this blog post back in May, the British Medical Journal warned: “The mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to last much longer than the physical health impact.” and that “There will be no vaccine for these [sic] mental health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The Age of Ambiguity is upon us

Back in February, Aviva spoke to 2,000 working people to look at the impact ambiguity is having on key areas of our working lives. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic turned everything upside down. With millions of workers finding themselves suddenly furloughed or working from home, the lines between work and home became even more blurred.

To assess the pandemic’s impact, Aviva repeated their research in August. Here’s what they found:

  • 52% of workers agree the boundaries between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred (up from 40% in February). As a result, employees are becoming physically, and increasingly emotionally, remote.
  • 54% agree their employer has worked hard to create a sense of ‘company togetherness’. However, just 15% say their employer is trying really hard to understand what motivates them.
  • 43% describe their wellbeing as being less than good, while 84% say that they would carry on working even if they felt unwell (a phenomenon known as ‘presenteeism’).
  • Heightened anxiety has led to employees working longer hours and taking fewer sick days, all the while becoming less fulfilled by work and life.

Aviva says we are living in an ‘Age of Ambiguity’ that is impacting society and places of work across the UK.

Government announces support for Covid-related mental health

As part of his spending review towards the end of November, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £500m for mental health services in England to help them cope with the fallout of the pandemic. 

The earmarked funds were announced two days after the government released its Staying mentally well this winter policy paper. The plan sets out the support that will be in place — including Covid-related resources, refreshed guidance and advice services — in the immediate term to help mitigate the pandemic’s impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing this winter.

GRiD, the group risk industry body, welcomed the Government’s plan, stating in a press release:

“It’s particularly encouraging to see that the crucial role employers play in ensuring their people are supported in improving their wellbeing at work has been recognised. These are unparalleled times and employers that show understanding and compassion during an employee’s time of need, whether that be in the midst of this pandemic or not, will win the loyalty and commitment of their staff.

My Overriding Thoughts

The impact of mental health as a result of Covid must never be underestimated. Politicians and scientists talk a lot about the physical impact of the virus itself and the need to protect people using lockdowns and social distancing. Obviously, this is incredibly important but should not be looked at in isolation.

We need to get to a place where we are considering physical and mental health alongside each other. One is not more important than the other, they just present themselves in different ways.

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Author: Claire Ginnelly

Claire Ginnelly is the Managing Director of Premier Choice Health and has been in the private medical insurance industry since 1991. All her experience has been gained working for large insurance companies managing the distribution of health insurance products through intermediaries. She has held senior positions within Standard Life Healthcare, as Head of Intermediary Sales, and Groupama Healthcare, as Head of Distribution.