Protecting peoples’ mental health and wellbeing as Covid-19 shifts the agenda

At the height of the pandemic in 2021, an operator on a maritime mental health hotline took a call from a first officer on a vessel moored in a port but unable to disembark due to Covid-19 restrictions. He told the operator ‘I’m literally standing on the ship, we’re in Korea, I’m from Korea, I can see the shore, that’s where my family is, and I cannot see them’. The frustration and worry of being separated from family and loved ones is well known to most seafarers, but the pandemic transformed this into an entirely new and devastating experience, where seafarers became literally trapped at sea despite being close to home.

The 2021 World Risk Poll has revealed that experience of harm from mental health has increased globally from 20% in 2019 to 25% in 2021. This isn’t surprising given we’ve been through a pandemic. While the data in the Poll shows that Covid-19 didn’t factor highly in most people’s safety concerns, it has been a contributing factor to people’s mental health, particularly in the workplace.

A great deal is known about the causes of poor psychological wellbeing across different occupational contexts. We know in maritime, for example, that worries about family and social isolation are some of the major risk factors for seafarers. The pandemic did not change these causes or their effects, but the unique circumstances of things like social distancing, lockdown and the ‘crew change crisis’, intensified, and transformed some aspects of mental health at work, creating some extraordinarily difficult experiences, like those of the first officer stuck on the vessel.

Using insight to protect mental health and wellbeing

In our report for Lloyd’s Register Foundation – The Impact of COVID-19 on Psychological Wellbeing in Occupational Contexts – we explore how the pandemic has shifted the agenda around mental health and psychological wellbeing. Based on interviews with expert practitioners and analysis of professional guidance and research studies, we discovered that line managers had to find different ways of monitoring and addressing mental health issues during the pandemic. For instance, the lack of physical presence around remote working made it far more difficult to recognise the signs that employees may be struggling with psychological wellbeing. Because of these unique circumstances, different kinds of conversations around mental health have started to emerge across occupational contexts.

Prior to Covid-19, the biggest challenge was often around raising awareness of mental health issues. Wellbeing professionals told us that there was now a need amongst employees for more detailed conversations around specific aspects of mental health (such as severe and enduring conditions). This suggests that in the immediate future the way organisations think about mental health may need to change. Currently, the most widely adopted strategies are programmes such as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Despite being enormously successful in uptake – 1 in 100 working age adults in the UK are trained in MHFA – these programmes tend to be reactive and are not always part of a holistic whole-organisation approach to psychological wellbeing.

Ownership also tends to fall across Occupational Health and Safety and Human Resource Management practitioners and in some very large organisations can vary in tone and focus across functional areas and divisions. What is needed, post-pandemic, is strategies around mental health that are pro-active, engaged with employee voice, and tailored to the specific contexts in which an organisation operates.

Health and Safety is no longer just about compliance

The pandemic has affected the labour market in significant ways, with some employees reconsidering their career options and working lives as part of the so-called ‘Great Resignation’. But the pandemic has also changed the way that all of us think about safety and its relationship to wellbeing. Safety is no longer just about compliance. The pandemic has shown that working in a safe way can have enormous consequences for our wellbeing. For example, social distancing and remote working can produce social isolation in ways that mean work is no longer the primary source of social connection. Organisations that engaged in downsizing or restructuring during the pandemic may be perceived by employees to have broken the ‘psychological contract’ – the implicit sense of fairness and mutual obligations – in ways that will make rebuilding trust difficulty.

We refer to this longer-term shift in how safety and wellbeing are understood as ‘long psychological Covid’. This is the psychological impact of the pandemic as it relates to work and health. For instance, many groups of workers have had to take on board keeping others safe – such as customers, colleagues, or vulnerable people – which has come at some physical and psychological cost. We do not yet know what that longer term cost will be or whether employees will even want to return to pre-pandemic ways of working, given how their thinking about work, wellbeing and safety has changed.

Cross-functional team conversations are key

This means that the work of those practitioners who are involved in wellbeing will also have to change. As one practitioner in the maritime sector told us ‘I was hired five and half years ago to stop major injury and accidents and that role has really changed to say no, your work is also to look after wellbeing. You need to work with HR and that is pretty much the safety profession’. To do this, practitioners will need to find different professional languages to speak across established boundaries. Since terms like ‘psychological wellbeing’ or ‘psychological safety’ can mean different things to different groups, even getting these conversations started may require experimenting with terms and ideas. Our report contains a toolkit that can help to support this.

These conversations may become yet more complex in future years. If the wellbeing and safety agendas are critical to mental health, so too are the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) agenda and the Sustainability agenda. The threats to mental health and wellbeing are not just in the immediate work environment, but also come from the broader society and ecology in which the organisation sits. The pandemic has shown what happens to an employee wellbeing when organisations must rapidly respond to external circumstances. In times of stark economic division and severe ecological challenges, a whole range of agendas are likely to come together around employee mental health. Organisations will need to find a way to create meaningful and effective conversations across diverse stakeholders to stay on top of an expanding wellbeing agenda.

Dr Steve Brown
Professor of Health and Organisational Psychology at Nottingham Business School
Nottingham Trent University




The Experience of Harm Index

NationExperience IndexExperience Rank
Afghanistan31.4821
Albania20.1260
Algeria21.6749
Argentina16.3881
Armenia9.88123
Australia16.1983
Austria12.77104
Azerbaijan8.01132
Bahrain20.8055
Bangladesh15.0691
Belarus7.76134
Belgium13.43102
Benin31.3422
Bolivia20.8553
Bosnia Herzegovina10.40118
Botswana22.3546
Brazil23.3044
Bulgaria5.84138
Burkina Faso22.7245
Cambodia16.5480
Cameroon30.5226
Canada19.5164
Chad36.0410
Chile17.4874
China6.46137
Colombia20.8154
Congo Brazzaville36.357
Costa Rica17.2775
Croatia12.00108
Cyprus14.3295
Denmark10.96116
Dominican Republic25.7934
Ecuador17.5473
Egypt11.88111
El Salvador20.7656
Estonia9.67126
Ethiopia22.1848
Finland14.6993
France12.40106
Gabon36.516
Georgia11.38114
Germany12.50105
Ghana31.0225
Greece12.06107
Guatemala26.3933
Guinea29.2030
Honduras21.5951
Hong Kong9.51128
Hungary7.99133
India18.7668
Indonesia19.3765
Iran24.3141
Iraq36.338
Ireland16.5579
Israel18.6669
Italy15.5587
Ivory Coast33.8717
Jamaica20.1458
Japan10.15120
Jordan22.2547
Kazakhstan9.84124
Kenya34.2215
Kosovo14.1296
Kuwait15.3889
Kyrgyzstan10.93117
Laos17.8372
Latvia9.32130
Lebanon15.2590
Lesotho34.4514
Liberia46.641
Libya29.3929
Lithuania13.6199
Luxembourg18.4070
Macedonia19.5963
Madagascar31.0724
Malawi40.584
Malaysia19.8662
Mali24.6239
Malta13.8097
Mauritania20.1359
Mauritius21.1952
Mexico19.0567
Moldova18.3371
Mongolia10.04121
Montenegro19.3266
Morocco25.6035
Mozambique40.653
Myanmar11.41113
Namibia35.7511
Nepal28.7431
Netherlands15.4488
New Zealand15.9086
Nicaragua16.0484
Niger25.4636
Nigeria15.9785
Norway9.91122
Pakistan34.8013
Palestine21.6550
Panama23.5143
Paraguay20.5657
Peru24.7538
Philippines29.6228
Poland5.29139
Portugal16.8277
Romania8.06131
Russia9.34129
Rwanda32.0920
Saudi Arabia16.7078
Senegal34.0316
Serbia11.03115
Sierra Leone35.5912
Singapore3.91141
Slovakia13.52100
Slovenia11.93110
South Africa32.6318
South Korea9.58127
Spain16.8576
Sri Lanka13.50101
Swaziland31.3422
Sweden13.36103
Switzerland11.72112
Taiwan6.95136
Tajikistan9.71125
Tanzania24.4440
Thailand10.33119
Gambia36.089
Togo32.2219
Tunisia25.2537
Turkey14.5994
Turkmenistan4.44140
Uganda36.975
Ukraine7.43135
United Arab Emirates16.3881
United Kingdom13.6998
United States19.9961
Uruguay14.9992
Uzbekistan3.80142
Venezuela29.8227
Vietnam11.97109
Yemen27.3732
Zambia46.172
Zimbabwe23.6142

The Government Safety Performance Index

NationTrust IndexTrust Rank
Afghanistan28.60139
Albania42.12122
Algeria48.88111
Argentina47.41113
Armenia56.6789
Australia81.3217
Austria77.8125
Azerbaijan63.9361
Bahrain90.173
Bangladesh70.2940
Belarus64.7559
Belgium66.5754
Benin68.6745
Bolivia61.4474
Bosnia Herzegovina39.65126
Botswana81.2418
Brazil50.29103
Bulgaria40.26124
Burkina Faso64.8458
Cambodia62.8866
Cameroon50.21104
Canada79.3220
Chad46.65115
Chile38.97128
China80.0319
Colombia60.9375
Congo Brazzaville46.49116
Costa Rica74.8730
Croatia36.51131
Cyprus54.1197
Denmark81.3616
Dominican Republic67.4150
Ecuador59.2282
Egypt61.7973
El Salvador75.4628
Estonia60.0878
Ethiopia49.44107
Finland77.8824
France57.6386
Gabon36.44132
Georgia49.06109
Germany69.3144
Ghana62.4568
Greece45.43117
Guatemala62.8567
Guinea50.84102
Honduras59.2880
Hong Kong73.6733
Hungary74.4131
India73.3534
Indonesia86.746
Iran64.2960
Iraq31.56137
Ireland75.1929
Israel67.8949
Italy57.4787
Ivory Coast66.6253
Jamaica58.2084
Japan71.1738
Jordan66.4955
Kazakhstan69.3443
Kenya69.3842
Kosovo46.67114
Kuwait86.955
Kyrgyzstan56.2291
Laos54.8994
Latvia49.39108
Lebanon29.04138
Lesotho38.53129
Liberia43.22121
Libya61.9570
Lithuania44.79119
Luxembourg81.8015
Macedonia50.02105
Madagascar67.3251
Malawi59.0383
Malaysia82.7912
Mali51.68100
Malta81.8414
Mauritania33.79134
Mauritius73.1836
Mexico59.6179
Moldova44.46120
Mongolia47.62112
Montenegro40.76123
Morocco38.43130
Mozambique72.6137
Myanmar63.7862
Namibia63.2165
Nepal54.6095
Netherlands84.809
New Zealand79.3121
Nicaragua76.1526
Niger57.4588
Nigeria49.05110
Norway78.2923
Pakistan49.91106
Palestine60.8876
Panama70.3839
Paraguay39.87125
Peru51.37101
Philippines87.354
Poland57.9685
Portugal66.2156
Romania32.77136
Russia45.24118
Rwanda84.928
Senegal56.2690
Serbia55.5592
Sierra Leone59.2781
Singapore93.031
Slovakia61.9571
Slovenia67.9348
South Africa63.6063
South Korea63.3464
Spain62.0769
Sri Lanka74.2732
Swaziland78.5222
Sweden84.7210
Switzerland85.527
Taiwan68.6746
Tajikistan82.0113
Tanzania73.2935
Thailand60.2477
Gambia66.7052
Togo53.1198
Tunisia39.24127
Turkey54.5796
Uganda61.8572
Ukraine32.98135
United Arab Emirates92.762
United Kingdom75.4827
United States69.4841
Uruguay68.6347
Uzbekistan83.1211
Venezuela34.90133
Vietnam65.9157
Yemen25.27140
Zambia51.8099
Zimbabwe55.1193

The World Worry Index

NationWorry IndexWorry Rank
Afghanistan44.0465
Albania49.4739
Algeria42.5373
Argentina43.3568
Armenia31.77121
Australia28.83131
Austria36.4099
Azerbaijan35.13105
Bahrain34.04110
Bangladesh49.2642
Belarus30.33127
Belgium36.33100
Benin56.2123
Bolivia49.7437
Bosnia Herzegovina33.71112
Botswana48.6744
Brazil58.3413
Bulgaria31.64122
Burkina Faso54.1327
Cambodia47.1451
Cameroon50.4635
Canada32.31119
Chad56.5921
Chile54.6325
China30.92125
Colombia49.4041
Congo Brazzaville59.906
Costa Rica41.8378
Croatia33.34115
Cyprus51.6432
Denmark22.64139
Dominican Republic42.7772
Ecuador52.9530
Egypt37.4397
El Salvador41.6680
Estonia25.71137
Ethiopia35.49104
Finland26.18135
France41.1385
Gabon60.564
Georgia34.14108
Germany36.33100
Ghana54.5726
Greece42.2276
Guatemala45.9658
Guinea62.762
Honduras41.9977
Hong Kong38.0094
Hungary29.19129
India39.2588
Indonesia46.9053
Iran37.7495
Iraq49.2443
Ireland35.63103
Israel28.98130
Italy44.9761
Ivory Coast59.0710
Jamaica49.6638
Japan44.2863
Jordan43.6666
Kazakhstan33.48114
Kenya47.2150
Kosovo43.0270
Kuwait34.64107
Kyrgyzstan43.0969
Laos42.2875
Latvia33.51113
Lebanon47.9846
Lesotho60.564
Liberia58.2214
Libya39.6287
Lithuania26.04136
Luxembourg38.6192
Macedonia48.5845
Madagascar41.7479
Malawi62.593
Malaysia49.4640
Mali57.4018
Malta35.89102
Mauritania46.9852
Mauritius56.3822
Mexico45.8059
Moldova47.8748
Mongolia53.8228
Montenegro41.2284
Morocco53.1229
Mozambique64.841
Myanmar50.5834
Namibia50.3236
Nepal47.9647
Netherlands28.10133
New Zealand31.34123
Nicaragua33.24117
Niger41.5581
Nigeria39.1590
Norway23.16138
Pakistan59.129
Palestine42.4774
Panama46.3556
Paraguay43.4667
Peru57.6417
Philippines59.218
Poland29.34128
Portugal52.0531
Romania41.1086
Russia36.6398
Rwanda46.1657
Saudi Arabia33.81111
Senegal58.8911
Serbia33.29116
Sierra Leone56.0024
Singapore20.15141
Slovakia32.81118
Slovenia37.5896
South Africa57.9615
South Korea46.6254
Spain45.5260
Sri Lanka39.1989
Swaziland59.247
Sweden18.75142
Switzerland31.32124
Taiwan41.4683
Tajikistan28.07134
Tanzania44.1164
Thailand38.5393
Gambia57.3719
Togo56.9620
Tunisia42.9671
Turkey46.5455
Turkmenistan30.68126
Uganda50.8233
Ukraine34.65106
United Arab Emirates28.59132
United Kingdom32.26120
United States34.10109
Uruguay41.4782
Uzbekistan21.66140
Venezuela57.6616
Vietnam44.4162
Yemen38.7791
Zambia58.7712
Zimbabwe47.3049

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