Over three-quarters (almost 79%) of businesses have seen an increase in requests for mental health support in the wake of COVID-19, according to a new report released by Unmind and the Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA).

The report, which surveyed business leaders in companies across the UK, comes as the UK both celebrates Mental Health Awareness Week and enters into week eight of lockdown. 

"It is great to see a shift among board directors towards actioning change".

COVID-19 poses an immediate physical health risk, but its impact on mental health has been widely reported too. As mental health becomes a mainstream topic, stigmas are being lifted and employees feel more emboldened to speak out and ask for help. This highlights what could be a tipping point for the mental health agenda and the role employers play in empowering employees to look after their mental health. Indeed, 88% of respondents believe employee mental health support will now receive greater backing at board level. 

Mental health is now high on the agenda across all levels of organisations, with 88% of companies also reporting that discussions around employee mental health had increased at senior management level. 

As part of this shift, over 70% of businesses are committing to increasing investment into mental health support for their employees. This in part may also be due to the fact that over half (55%) feel that the mental health implications of COVID-19 will negatively affect business performance over the next twelve months. 

The biggest area of increased spending is reported to be on mental health training - both for employees and line managers. The requirement to work from home during lockdown and the predicted shift in working styles long-term has also resulted in 60% of these organisations committing to increasing investment in digital mental wellbeing platforms and apps. 

Further statistics from the report include: 

  • Over 90% of businesses have increased their emphasis on the importance of employee mental health as a result of the pandemic
  • Over 85% believe the virus has or will negatively impact their employees’ mental health 
  • Less than 2% of businesses have seen a decrease in requests for mental health support
  • Less than 2% of businesses think the pandemic will not have an impact on employee mental health

All signs suggest the pandemic could have a profoundly positive impact on the progression and promotion of the mental health agenda within the workplace and wider society. 

The report surveyed 151 British companies from across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. This included organisations such as BT, Centrica, Shell International, John Lewis & Partners, Marks and Spencer and TSB. Of the companies surveyed, 73% had over 500 employees. In total, the businesses that responded to the survey represent more than half a million employees. 

Dr Nick Taylor, CEO and Co-Founder of Unmind and Clinical Psychologist, comments:

“The findings show that recent events have triggered a profound and positive shift in how we think about and look after our mental wellbeing. As a society the majority of us have never experienced anything like this pandemic, and it is more important than ever that organisations are prepared to empower their employees to thrive in life and work.

“Our mental health is determined by many aspects of life, from physical fitness and sleep, to friendship networks and family relationships, to self-esteem and mindset. These areas are interwoven, with each impacting the next, and the virus has impacted every facet. To help us lead a mentally healthy and balanced life, we should think of ourselves as the sum of all of those parts, and do what we can to nourish each.

“We cannot underestimate the long-term impact of this pandemic on our mental health, but should also remain optimistic about what this means for the topic. It’s so important that businesses respond to this shift and use it as an opportunity to propel their mental health strategies forward to meet the needs and expectations of their people".

Debi O’Donovan, Director, Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA), said:

“Attitudes towards mental health in the workplace have been changing steadily for the last decade but the lockdown has most definitely accelerated this. As more people, especially in senior leadership teams, speak openly about the impacts of the pandemic on wellbeing, it is great to see a shift among board directors towards actioning change.

“As the report demonstrates, organisations are aware of the impact that COVID-19 will have after the lockdown ends. The increase in conversations by senior management and Board members about mental health is particularly notable in the survey results.

"It is important that we invest now and adopt a proactive approach to prevent problems arising and ensure we are supporting our employees as much as possible throughout a period that will continue to be strenuous on their mental health".


Read the full report here