The silent pandemic: Impact of COVID-19 on mental health, By Ijeoma Ogbonna

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Ijeoma Ogbonna

The covid-19 pandemic has been with us for a full year and counting, although vaccines have been rolled out and looking progressive. The Coronavirus pandemic has, however, deeply altered social and working environments in several ways. Social distancing policies, mandatory lockdowns, isolation periods, and anxiety of getting sick, bereavement along with loss of income, and fear of the future, have jointly led to increased levels of anxiety and mental health of many.

The present pandemic is, however, more devastating because unlike a natural disaster or war outbreak, people can relocate or build a sophisticated defence system to minimise or escape any foreseeable negative impact, but there is nowhere to run to escape the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

In a street in Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria. Only 10% of people with mental health problems receive psychological support. (CC BY – Stefan Magdalinski)

The World Health Organisation in 2017 estimated that those experiencing mental health problems are up to 40 to 60 million people in Nigeria, out of a of almost 200 million. There is a great urgency for treatment for these sufferers but less than 10% of these people currently have access to a psychiatrist or healthcare provider.

Also a psychologist, Mr Jolade Phillips, who volunteers for the MANI (Mentally Aware Initiative) community organisation, that calls to its public hotline increased by 70% during lockdown.

Why is the rate of mental health issues on the rise?  Simply because of the uncertainties of the pandemic and how it is being managed, the varied version of media stories and narratives, grief from the loss of a loved one, layoffs and job loss. As the economy continues to open up, and work life gradually goes back to normal, it is important that adequate measures be taken in the workplace to manage, support and evaluate workers and their psychological state of mind.

But let’s first of all understand factors that can lead to mental health challenges in the workplace:


As human resources managers re-integrate workers back into the workplace, they bear in mind that employees are still struggling to overcome most of the effects of covid 19, anxiety being the most common and working in a negative working environment could lead to physical and mental health problems. 


A toxic work environment can affect a person’s physical and mental health to the point of shortening their life, and poor communication and management practices can produce toxins in the work place and pollute the whole system.

Poor communication, inconsistency in following company policies and procedures, and toxic leaders within the system are just some of the factors that can impact on employee health physically, emotionally and relationally.


Stress can be as a result of heavy workload. Considering  that employees may still be laddered with the psychological impact of leaving with the covid pandemic, the inability for human resources manager rethink work schedules, work hours, options to work from home, counseling and well-being services may cause mental health issues at work.


Bullying and harassment both have a substantial adverse impact on mental health. The effects of workplace bullying don’t end when you leave the office. Being a victim of bullying can cause physical and psychological health problems: incapacity to work or concentrate, a loss of self-esteem, having trouble making decisions and lower productivity


A disagreeable work environment can cause depression and may do more than drag down morale. It can people depressed, according to the findings of a new study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine so it is important for employers to promote incentives to encourage team work.

Then next thing is to ask how managers can support employee mental health.

There are a ton of useful free resources to help managers better support employee mental health. This short list synthesizes some of the most pressing – from mental health training and investment in employee wellbeing, to becoming more empathetic and approachable.

1.   Learn about mental health issues

You don’t need to be a psychiatrist or psychologist to learn about mental health. – We just need to get better at learning about them. This starts with training yourself and your staff on mental health and stress management. Since disorders like anxiety and depression are very common, it’s important that everyone knows how to spot early warning signs and manage stress.

2. Practice what you preach

The actions of leadership have a huge impact on employee behavior. No matter how many positive policies you promote, if you’re not acting on them yourself, your employees won’t feel permitted to do so either. of the clearest ways to send the message to your staff that their wellbeing matters is to lead by example.

3.   Monitor employee performance

Wellbeing directly affects an employee’s engagement, motivation and productivity at work. Watching out for changes in employee performance can help you offer proactive support to anyone who might be struggling. This doesn’t have to be intrusive or time-intensive but simple to use tracking apps that can capture and share this information automatically for you.

4.   Normalise conversations around mental health

Leadership can or break a company’s approach to mental health, and can also directly impact the occurrence of mental health problems. Research shows that lack of managerial support is of the most commonly cited factors in employee stress, anxiety and depression. It makes psychological safety at work virtually impossible, making it unlikely that employees will actually ask for help.

Employers need to create a safe, non-judgement culture in which people can speak openly about mental health and actively ask for support when they need it. As a manager, it is required of you to be approachable, empathetic and able to normalize conversations about mental health. Regular check-ins are a great place to start, but if there are other ways for you can create space for people to discuss, raise issues and ask questions about mental health would be helpful. 

5.   Prioritise wellbeing throughout your company

To be effective, your mental health support needs to be structural – woven into the very way your company operates acts and thinks. That starts with communicating that mental health will be actively supported on the same terms as physical health – meaning employees are entitled to sick days to manage their mental health. It also means investing in building an open, supportive culture in which people feel they can ask for support and share their experiences. In a nutshell, it means working mental health support into the very DNA of your company.

6. Offer tailored support

There is no simple fix to mental health problems. Management of employee can definitely different in dealing person to person. So your support needs to be tailored to each individual. While everyone have access to ongoing feedback and coaching, you need to listen to people to know how to flex your management style to meet their needs. That starts with asking them what they need from you to reach their goals, and what they think of the support you currently provide.  

In conclusion, history has shown that the mental health impact of pandemics outweighs the physical impact, suggesting that today’s elevated mental health challenge will continue even after the pandemic. Employers are and will continue to be, on the front lines of the mental health crisis that has been worsened by COVID-19, so as continue to discuss on the way forward to reduce the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, it will be important that they consider increasing the support for   mental health patient even as new cases and deaths due to the novel coronavirus subside.


Photos: google images/

Photos by Stefan Magdalinski

Ijeoma Ogbonna is a life coach