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Senior Operations Analyst for Crisis Management & Special Risks, and Political Risk, Credit & Bond

The COVID-19 lockdown has brought the issue of mental health and well-being into sharp focus for many colleagues. As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness month, Lauren Rees, Senior Operations Analyst for Crisis Management & Special Risks, and Political Risk, Credit & Bond at AXA XL in London, shares some thoughts about how the lockdown has affected people with mental health and has also given discussion on the topic a new urgency and focus.

Lauren is a Mental Health Champion at AXA XL, having shared her mental health story with colleagues and opened up channels of communication within her team and beyond. In 2018, Lauren was presented the Judges’ Award for “Breaking the Silence” at the inaugural Not a Red Card Awards for kick-starting the conversation on openly discussing mental health in the workplace.


As we close out Mental Health Awareness month (May) we consider how this important event, which helps to raise awareness and reduce stigma, comes at a time when many of us are focusing more than ever before on our mental well-being.

Many of us have been struggling with feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures put in place by governments to try to reduce the spread of the virus.

The Mental Health Foundation, a UK charity, published a study that showed feelings of loneliness have more than doubled during the lockdown period, with almost a quarter of UK adults saying they had experienced loneliness because of COVID-19 restrictions. Some 44% of young people – aged between 18 and 24 – said they had experienced loneliness during the lockdown, while 35% of adults aged between 25 and 34 said they had experienced loneliness in recent weeks. One in six people over the age of 55 also said they felt lonely.

The lockdown has shone a spotlight on the issue of mental health, with so many experiencing feelings of loneliness or anxiety in the strange circumstances in which we find ourselves. This increased awareness can only, I hope, be a good thing for increasing understanding of mental health and how it will affect all us, in different ways, at different points in our lives – even though you may not realise it.

I hope that this increased awareness and understanding will lead to more openness and more discussion around mental health, both in and outside of work. It is something we all have and need to look after – just like our physical health.  For one in four of us, that care could look slightly different.

It’s important to remember, however, that those of us with pre-existing mental health diagnoses are still living with those conditions, lockdown or no lockdown. There are people who suffer from isolation all the time – whether that be physical or mental.

Medical professionals at the Royal College of Nursing, have noted that the COVID-19 lockdown presents particular challenges for people with conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression.  An interdisciplinary group of 24 experts recently published a paper in Lancet Psychiatry, warning that instances of anxiety and harmful behaviours could increase during this lockdown period, partly as a result of social isolation.

I would urge those that might be finding things particularly tough right now to talk to someone, many firms have mental health first aiders or Employee Assistance Programmes with mental health provision. Alternatively, reach out to a co-worker or friend.

Those with pre-existing conditions may be able to share with their teams their personal experiences and tips for dealing with mental or physical isolation. That is what I did and believe it or not there can be positives to mental health.

There is a lot of talk about the “new normal” and how the world will look after the pandemic is over – or at least when social distancing rules are relaxed. Nobody quite knows what this new normal will look like, or how we will live and work in the coming months.

This notion can be petrifying for many of us. For people with mental health conditions, the idea of returning to a busy office after so many weeks of being at home can be crippling and prevent us from focusing on the here and now.  The COVID-19 situation has given us an important opportunity to focus on grounding ourselves and getting back to basics.  We have the time to nurture our mental well-being, so we are in a better place to be mindful of others and the world around us. I think it is important for us all to think about ways to make that transition – whenever and however it happens – as smooth as possible for everyone, especially those with mental health conditions or disabilities, whether those be visible or not.

As we honour mental health awareness month, let’s look forward to making mental well-being a part of our day-to-day working lives.

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