As the pandemic continues to grip communities across the world, we can’t fail to realise how fortunate we are in Guernsey. We have escaped the lengthy disruption to society we are seeing in other countries. But what is difficult to assess is what the impact of Covid-19 has been on our mental health.
We have experienced changes in our lives that would have been unimaginable on the 1st January 2020. New concepts such as social distancing, shelter-at-home, and furlough have all entered our common lexicon. We have experienced levels of fear, uncertainty, unemployment and grief that society has not experienced in the west since World War II. Harold MacMillan’s words from the 1950s “You’ve never had it so good” seemed applicable for each successive generation after the war. Until now.
We can see economic collapse greater than was seen in the Great Depression. There is a hidden impact as well. It is ironic that many of the strategies that are so critical to address the pandemic from a collective public health perspective have had major impacts on our mental health and wellbeing. All around the world evidence is coming in that we are suffering, some more so than others. Whilst we know now how to wash our hands properly we still don’t know how to respond to the emotional impacts of the pandemic.
The impact on our mental health and well-being
Like many other jurisdictions as the pandemic spread the Government in Guernsey started collecting information about the public’s mental health and well-being through public surveys. Unsurprisingly people are more anxious, depressed and traumatized than we were before. In China over February and March, when the pandemic was at its peak in their country, respondents’ levels of their stress, anxiety, and depression didn’t change. It showed that the population didn’t get worse but they weren’t getting used to living with the pandemic.
In Spain a survey in March showed that 19 percent of the respondents were suffering from depression, almost a quarter for anxiety, and 16 percent for PTSD. In Guernsey in every household income group at least 42% of respondents stated that lockdown had a negative or strongly negative impact on their stress and anxiety levels. At least 35% reported a negative impact on their mental health.
Unsurprisingly these high levels of stress and anxiety have affected our sleep. This contributed towards the creation of a vicious cycle with many people catastrophizing the pandemic which then kept themselves awake at night.
We weren’t all in this together
The stay-at-home orders, the disruption to work, remote working and keeping the generations apart have left many people isolated. In Guernsey we are so fortunate to be almost back to normal as I sit here at the Terrace in Town with people going about their normal lives. It does feel slightly surreal. The strength of community spirit and support has been key to helping people cope here and elsewhere. But we haven’t all been in this together. Not everyone has been affected in the same way.
We have seen people who are younger and those with chronic health conditions who have been lonelier than other groups. Being locked-in at home has meant for some being contained with the perpetrators of abuse. A few weeks into the crisis the United Nations called for immediate action to protect women and girls from increases in violence and domestic abuse. We saw For some this has meant layer-upon-layer of causes of stress making a difficult situation even more challenging.
Impact on our working lives
How the pandemic has affected our work has been one of the biggest disruptions we have had to face. Essential workers have stepped onto the front-line putting themselves at risk and earning our gratitude and respect. For some it was possible to work from home. This meant juggling home-schooling and caring for others at the same time. Now in Guernsey at least we are fortunate that we are able to go back to normal in many ways. For some our only inconvenience is our continued closed borders.
Far too many though have lost their jobs. The hospitality sector is struggling despite the uptake in the number of us taking staycations. In the US unemployment quadrupled from February to April before plateauing in July at 10 percent. Some studies have shown that it was those people working from home who were actually more distressed and less satisfied with their lives.
Looking after our people
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a pandemic has changed our mindsets and our world of work. As employers now, more than ever, there is a need to support and look after our people. Businesses are at their most successful, most creative and most innovative when their people are happy, valued and engaged. Now is precisely the right time to invest in programmes to improve the mental wealth and well-being of your staff.
So what are you doing?