An employee who has physically recovered from Covid-19 may still not be mentally fit to get back to work, and would therefore need support to address the psychological stresses.
Dr Edward Chan, Principal Consultant Psychologist from the International Psychology Centre (IPC), Kuala Lumpur, was delivering an online talk today on “Post Covid-19 Positive Back-to-Work Fitness Tests”. About 20 people attended the event organised by the Penang Regional Centre (PGRC) and the School of Business & Administration (SBA).
He said Covid-19 affects one’s mental health because of restricted movements, changes in routine, risk of unemployment, financial struggles, increased awareness of surrounding hygiene, loss of loved ones, social isolation, and conflicts/abuses in quarantine. The resulting common mental health disorders reported are anxiety, stress, depression, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs).
“A lot of these psychological health disorders might persist in recovered patients. They may be more vulnerable to thinking that there is danger everywhere, thus affecting their mental health,” he said. He pointed out that these patients may not be psychologically fit to get back to work, cautioning that employees who return to work without being fully ready are prone to anxiety, burnout, poor concentration, panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr Chan shared a few strategies to help recovered patients get back to work. “To ensure that team members are psychologically fit, organisations must improve the managers’ skill and knowledge in guiding their workers. The managers should know the signs and symptoms of any problems the employees might experience.” He also stressed the need for organisations to support workers in regaining self-control, to focus on workers’ values, views and needs, and to collaborate with professionals.
Other strategies for back-to-work mental fitness in recovered patients are scheduling activities like hobbies, exercise, keeping in touch with family, limiting exposure to news updates, healthy diet, adequate sleep, health supplements, and maintaining spiritual health.
He informed the audience that his centre performs assessment test, intervention and treatment to ensure workers are fit for work, e.g. wellness coaching and employee counselling. The IPC offers psychotherapy treatments, namely cognitive behavioural therapy, schema therapy, hypnotherapy and EMDR (eye movement, de-sensitisation and reprocessing) therapy to manage post-traumatic stresses that affect job performances.
Dr Chan explained that some recovered patients are more affected than others by Covid-19 because of schema, i.e. a pattern of thought or behaviour. “Some schema can be positive like a Zoom meeting for communications, or negative like seeing the world as a dangerous place.With negative schema, those cured may still experience anxiety, fear and psychological disorders,” he remarked.
During Q&A, in response to how to allay the fears of employees who return to work, Dr Chan said employers must address these negative thoughts in a rationale fashion, like implementing SOPs to mitigate risk, timely vaccination, and making the environment safe.