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COVID-19 Impact on Mental Health Shows Anti-Anxiety Prescriptions Soaring - What Can Leaders Do?

In an article released on 8 July, the RACGP (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) have advised that anxiety and depression medication prescription rates have soared as a result of COVID-19 and the restrictions needed to curtail it.

The article states that the prescription rates of anti-anxiety drugs have increased by 31%

(according to aggregated data from more than 1000 Australian general practices), suggesting that uncertainties over health and financial impacts are taking their toll in our Australian community.

Similarly, antidepressant prescriptions have also risen, up by double-figure percentages (13-22%) over last year for each of the eight weeks ending 6 June 2020. The RAGCP expects the trend to continue for some time as the consequences of isolation, fear around COVID-19, social circumstance and the economic impacts persist in the coming months.

According to GP and Melbourne University senior lecturer Dr Caroline Johnson, ‘the optimistic view is that data showing increased help-seeking by patients confirms the success of mental health education and stigma reduction and people know it is important to seek help,’ she said. ‘The pessimistic view is that these figures represent the tip of the iceberg of people experiencing distress, with widespread unmet need that may or may not subside as our communities learn to adjust to the “new normal” of a prolonged pandemic.

As we mentioned in our April 2020 blog article titled 'superhero leadership,' in times of crisis and uncertainty, a business leader's job is to deliver extra doses of courage, compassion, guidance, empathy, support and positivity. We have a wonderful opportunity to build trust and an even stronger bond with our people and our customers, depending on our mindset and the way we respond in times of crisis and uncertainty.

Our mindset (or our general attitude toward life) is the most important choice we have to make during challenging times. It revolves around the simple choice to either embrace a positive or a negative attitude. We often forget that we have this power to choose. And this choice, made consciously or unconsciously, impacts everyone around us as leaders.

Your people need you to choose a positive mindset and to be extra aware of and sensitive to the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of your workforce. So choose to look at your situation in a positive light, consult with your people regarding the best plan that you can put together to strengthen your business and support each other in spite of the current challenges and implement it together as a team. Your people need you to engage with them, support them and then guide them.

According to Harvard, this is not a time to move away from kindness and caring, even if our brains naturally nudge us in that direction. It’s important to try to find ways to remain open to compassion, even when we’re overtaxed. A book titled Awakening Compassion at Work, highlights that showing compassion correlates with your own level of job satisfaction and the degree to which you find your work meaningful. Your people need you to show compassion.

According to Monica Worline, a research scientist at Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, “when we’re under severe stress, we go back to coping patterns that are familiar and we have a hard time seeing that there’s any other way to do what we’re doing."

So purposefully expand your horizons, learn new approaches, consult with experts, consider business coaching and let go of 'the familiar' - by choice. If you inculcate a positive mindset, you will see that our current challenges are presenting us with a growth opportunity to envisage and implement new ways of working. In reality, change is happening anyway, so choose your mindset, encourage your people to roll with the changes, embrace them and get ahead of the wave for a bright and positive future!

COVID-19 is challenging for everyone and it's not easy to demonstrate 'superhero leadership' in times of crisis and uncertainty. Please reach out to us if you need some support to demonstrate business courage and compassion as a leader in your business. We've been in your shoes and we're here to help.

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