The struggle is real and extraordinarily stubborn.
Here we are, more than a year into the pandemic, and now, finally, with a brighter light at the end of the tunnel … anxiety levels are as high as ever.
The recent CDC guidance on lifting the mask mandate for those fully vaccinated brought hope to many, sure. But it also introduced another worry – is it too fast, too soon?
More adults now say that the pandemic has had a serious impact on their mental health (43%) than did a year ago (37%), according to a recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association. A greater share of adults also said they were drinking and doing more drugs than they did last year.
The despair is worse among young adults, with nearly half of those aged 18-29 saying they felt more anxious now than they did in April 2020.
Why would that be the case now when we’re so close to returning to ‘normal’? Because anxiety is cumulative, while inner strength is finite.
When the pandemic started, we at AAA Northeast sensed stress levels would only rise in the coming months. Unfortunately, we were right.
We anticipated a growing need for mental health services as the lockdowns began and introduced two new employee health programs. The first was Health Advocate, a confidential resource offering emotional health support for employees and their families. The other was myStrength a free 24/7 service offering guidance on coping with some of life’s biggest challenges.
Telehealth was another feature introduced through our health partner United Health Care and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Many people feel more comfortable visiting a mental health pro by video or phone rather than in person, especially during a pandemic. And people are much more likely to seek mental health help when we, as HR leaders, make that care as accessible as possible.
We often talk about putting employees in a position to shine, and that starts with promoting and removing the stigma from mental health.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and as more organizations mull a return to the office, I urge my HR colleagues and peers to read the room, if you haven’t already. While we can’t see into the future, we can arm our employees now with the tools that will help them put the pandemic and its stresses in the rear-view mirror.
And if any silver lining could be gleaned from the last year, maybe it’s that, through our own prolonged personal or collective grief, we’ve developed a greater understanding of and empathy for those who struggle with mental health challenges every day.
Ron Arigo is senior vice president and head of human resources at AAA Northeast.