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Journal column by Marianne O'Sullivan, policy adviser, North East England Chamber of Commerce


Mental health awareness week which started on Monday, is vitally important given the current situation with coronavirus putting increased pressure on everyone. Changing working patterns, isolation, increased uncertainty and economic pressure are all having their impact. Personally, changing to working from home full time and not being able to visit family have all been challenges to adjust to.

Mental health and wellbeing is difficult for those on the frontline such as health care workers along with people in insecure positions facing economic pressure. Young people under 25 and women across all age groups have been facing some of the largest economic challenges during lockdown. Research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown they are more likely to work in sectors shut down and may also face childcare issues.

Mental Health Foundation has similarly highlighted that 24% of adults in the UK are experiencing increased loneliness due to the Coronavirus crisis.

It is therefore clear that mental health needs to be a key concern both for Government but also for businesses to ensure that their staff and the North East community are safe whilst facing new working patterns and uncertainty.

At the Chamber we are putting on a series of virtual workshops for staff including practising mindfulness, developing resilience, and looking at the impact of isolation on mental health as well as running webinars with members around best practise to look after staff’s wellbeing.

We’ve heard of some great examples of where North East businesses are going the extra mile to support their clients and teams. One lovely example is the children of Home Group staff have been writing to residents to keep spirits high and to encourage them to write letters back to help combat loneliness.

While Children North East are also playing an important role in giving help to young people to cope with a range of issues. Children North East have also appealed for help from the business community to source six computer tablets for its unique parent/infant psychotherapy service so that it can improve its online counselling.

The Covid 19 crisis is placing great pressure on business owners so Natasha McDonough, MD of Research Agency, MMC, has launched a survey this week to find out what would help with this. Natasha plans for the study to identify opportunities to create peer support networks and useful resources to reduce feelings of isolation that business leaders may experience.

As we continue to socially distance it is important that we stay connected, hopefully this year’s Mental Health Awareness week will open up conversations on how best to support one another.