Weathering the Storm of Mental Health During the Pandemic

By Heidi Stewart, group commercial director, Salutem Care and Education

As the tide of the global pandemic continues to ebb and flow, its broad and far-reaching implications continue to emerge. Some were foreseen like the shops shutting, children falling behind in education and quieter restaurants. Others were less obvious at the outset – spikes in domestic violence, growing NHS waiting lists for pre-exist- ing conditions and the significant strains on mental health.

Nowhere was the impact on mental health more keenly felt than among key workers. The war-effort mentality, huge sense of responsibility and indeed fear of infection, played heavy on the minds and consciences of those at the frontline, whether they work in super- markets, the NHS or indeed, the care sector.

Carers, even in the best of times, work, very often, with the most vulnerable people in society. In this period of crisis, they have had to man- age their own health, their family’s health and the health – sometimes literally life or death – of the people they support. They have done so against a backdrop of a media fanning the flames of Sturm und Drang; a constant barrage of negativity and fear mongering. The rigours of new infection control measures in this caustic environment, can only have served to increase anxiety levels; the knowledge that a tiny slip in procedure – as simple as forgetting to change gloves, or disinfect a parcel – could have dire consequences.

At Salutem like many other providers in the sector I suspect, we have sought to address this growing impact on the mental health of our front- line staff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic but also to embed these changes in our working practices ongoingly. As a sector, it is important that we share knowledge and best practice so that, as well as being able to improve our clinical and infection control measures, we can keep our teams healthy in mind and spirit.

Over the past few months, we have introduced or expanded our range of mental health support measures for our staff across the board – not just frontline workers. Early on during the pandemic, we began a rolling programme of awareness campaigns covering a variety of topical and emerging issues. This was backed up with the creation of a dedicated hub for mental wellbeing resources, which included resources for home- based workers too, recognising that this provided a new challenge, especially for those managing childcare responsibilities alongside their work.

We have introduced new onboarding resources, outlining what new employees should expect when working on the frontline during the pan- demic. To support this, managers have been equipped with induction resources to talk about managing stress with new employees.

Above all, as an organisation, we have recognised that even today, in these circumstances, mental ill-health is still treated as the lesser rela- tion to physical ill-health. That even up against the unprecedented events of the past six months, people suffering with stress, anxiety, or depression, still feel societal stigma. Signing up to the Time to Change campaign has sent a message to the Salutem family that we’re here to listen, that we value the emotional wellbeing of our team and put their health, physical and mental at the core of our organisation.

In the coming months, we are bound to see more peaks and troughs in this pernicious virus. We will see local lockdowns, changing legislation and guidance for our processes and, who knows what else. But one thing is certain – throughout it all, our frontline teams will be the lynchpin of our organisations, charged with our most important task – the safety and wellbeing of the people we support. To neglect their wellbeing and safety, would be folly beyond compare.

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