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Mental health of frontline workers top concern in pandemic

mental health

Essential workers on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic are at great risk for developing mental health issues that come from daily exposure to the virus and its implications, according to presenters at a Monday session during the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.’s 2021 conference, which was held virtually.

Employers must practice empathy and provide resources, according to Mark Debus, behavioral health team lead at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.

“People on the front lines are starting to develop repetitive stress reactions that lead to things like PTSD and anxiety,” he said. “This compound, collective trauma that a lot of people are experiencing is really leading to some severe mental health reactions.”

“Try to understand the emotional circumstances that your employees are in… communicate that empathy to their employees. Don’t tiptoe around this,” he said. “This is something that we know is impacting everybody, especially essential workers right now. Employers that ignore that fact do so at great peril to their employees, and their bottom line.”

Mr. Debus and co-presenter Beth Burry, Sedgwick’s senior vice president of case management, clinically integrated programs, noted the uptick in mental health issues present in COVID-19 workers compensation claims, with virus sufferers also managing such issues as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The cumulative stress among essential and frontline workers “is constant for them,” said Ms. Burry. “We are seeing many situations in which injured workers and employees are having really intense stress challenges in the work environment today.”

The stress can impact everyday work and return to work, they said. 

In addition to addressing employee concerns with empathy, employers can provide mental health services to workers or point to resources, Mr. Debus said. Educating employees on the realities of the virus can also be helpful, he said. 

Another tip is to encourage employees to limit their time viewing or reading news, or engaging on social media — which have all shown to impact stress levels among workers who face the risk of the virus daily, he said. 

More insurance and workers compensation news on the coronavirus crisis here