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COVID-19 the mental health reckoning we need

Written by: Richelle Matthews, COO
May 1, 2020

As I was tucking my six-year-old into bed last week and he said, “Mama I feel angry, sad, lonely and confused”. I think it is fair that my wise little boy summed up what we are all feeling right now.

Over the past two months I have started many conversations with “How are you doing physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually?” (I like to cover all the bases). This has led to very candid conversations with friends, family and colleagues. Many friends have broken down crying, saying “I just don’t know what is wrong right now”. Ok, so maybe it isn’t the best conversation starter, but now more than ever they seem like necessary conversations.

One in two Canadians will experience mental illness by the time they reach 40 years of age according to CMHA. A recent study by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, prior to COVID-19, found that workplace stress was one of the most commonly reported causes of mental health problems. Yet, they found that 66% of respondents reported their employers did not have any policies or programs to reduce stigma, 75% reported that they were not aware of any employer-sponsored workplace mental health strategy, and 90% reported there were no attendance policies that addressed mental health.

COVID-19, isn’t just a health pandemic, it is also a moment for mental health awareness. Everyone is experiencing added stress of work, parenting, families, relationships, financial insecurity, job loss, fear or isolation. Thankfully, in light of these challenges people are opening up and talking about mental health more than ever before.

This is the time for HR departments and leadership teams to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health in the short and long-term and to take this as an opportunity to lead with understanding, empathy, and inclusion.

Last week I spoke to two Canadian tech companies. Get-A-Head Inc. and Starling Minds to learn more about what they are doing to help Canadian’s access mental health support.

Starling Minds, is a wellness platform, that uses a skills-based, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program that teaches tangible, sustainable skills for dealing with symptoms to improve mental health. Their research also showed that the top stresses are social isolation, health concerns, and job security. Nearly 50% of people they spoke to were experiencing major life-altering changes, high levels of anxiety, and major disruptions in daily life. If left untreated or unmanaged, a person’s mental state can decline drastically leading to more physical and mental health problems. In light of their findings, Starling Minds has generously decided to make their platform free for companies and users during the pandemic.

Get-A-Head a Toronto based Digital Mental Health Platform understands the gaps in accessing support. Their platform helps clinical trainees complete their required training hours online in a supervised environment that provides anonymity and real-time support for their clients. They have been rolling out their platform to universities in Canada and the US as well as companies in the sports and entertainment sectors. Their platform uses AI to recognize speech patterns and word usage and provides feedback to the practitioner on any changes in the clients’ mental health as noted from the text or speech patterns. In this time, they have found that their virtual platform that allows real-time and anonymous support has increased people’s willingness to access mental health care.

In this time of health crisis, it is important for leaders to not just consider physical health but also the mental wellbeing of their employees. We have all realized that COVID-19 is having short and long term effects on our mental health, now is the time for employers to take steps to put the appropriate supports in place to help their employees to thrive and not only survive through this time of crisis.

Written by: Tiona Corcoran, VP International Recruitment and Immigration at Global Talent Accelerator

Contributions by: Janet Pun, Marketing Manager at Starling Minds; and Ahad Bandealy Founder & CEO of Get A-Head Inc.