COVID could improve working conditions for people with mental illness

Changes made to the workplace during the coronavirus pandemic could offer solutions to help improve work situations for people with mental illness, according to Sherry Glied, dean of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

In an article that she and Richard Frank of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Health Policy Initiative wrote for the Brookings Institute, experts argue that “just as closed captions and text readers have made it easier for people with hearing and visual disabilities to participate in the workforce, technologies that facilitate work and remote care can offer mentally ill workers more opportunities to stay healthy and engaged in work. “

Glied explained that what COVID highlighted was that there are many jobs that people can do, at least some of the time, in other ways, such as communicating through project management or other text-based interactions. These new tools, and even staying home part of the time, could make it easier for people struggling with certain mental illnesses and allow them to do better at their jobs.

He said that people with depression can have trouble getting up, getting dressed, and going to the office, so Zoom meetings are a good solution. People with anxiety may have trouble interacting with people, so non-verbal communication could be more productive.

“If we could get used to what is the easiest way for a person to get involved in the workplace, this would be helpful for everything and everyone,” Glied said.

Mental health first aid, illustrative (credit: CLAUDIO SCHWARZ / UNSPLASH)

Mental disorders do not fit in well in the workplace because they can be debilitating. However, work is a fundamental part of life for most people.

“While illnesses vary in severity and nature, symptoms can interfere with productivity in ways that have significant consequences for both employers and employees,” Glied and Frank wrote. “Depression, for example, can make small tasks seem overwhelming and can lead people to be irritable and angry at others. Anxiety can make it difficult for people to meet deadlines, participate in meetings, or make presentations. Experiencing symptoms of mental illness can lead to people missing work altogether. In some cases, symptoms of mental illness lead people to lose or quit their jobs.

In the past two years, Glied said, the world has learned that therapy can be delivered by phone or zoom, saving time and making care more accessible. Other previous studies have shown that employee assistance programs that attempt to connect people to their workplaces, though not therapy, can be effective, he added.

Even before the pandemic, mental health problems were a growing concern. About a fifth of the population has diagnosable mental health symptoms, Glied said: “a large portion of the population at all times.”

COVID, of course, put a magnifying glass on everything, including mental health issues, and caused some mental health challenges due to loneliness, fear, and people’s varying levels of risk tolerance, explained Dr. Talya Miron. -Shatz, founding director of the Center for Medical Decision Making at Ono Academic College.

“If there is one thing we must learn from COVID, it is to respect people’s various risk tolerances or lack thereof,” he said.

Miron-Shatz added that COVID also made people realize that the daily routine of going to work was taking its toll, forcing employers to rethink working conditions.

“If employers want a future job in which businesses continue to grow and prosper, then we need answers that recognize the reality of mental health symptoms, allow flexibility and accommodation at work, and still preserve productivity,” Glied and Frank wrote. .

Glied said that in Israel health funds may be “working aggressively” with employers to find ways to accommodate people with mental illness. He added that “Israel is well positioned to address some of these issues.”

“If more employers embrace the treatments and adaptations that have been shown to work alongside the innovations emerging from the pandemic,” Glied and Frank wrote, “we can create a future of work that is more equitable and financially vibrant for people with mental illness. and the companies that employ them. “

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