What does perinatal mental health mean for your business?
In January 2021, the Health Minister in Robin Swann announced funding has been approved for specialist perinatal mental health care in Northern Ireland. It comes at a time when women who have given birth in 2020 will be preparing to return to work after maternity leave. Perinatal mental health is a topic all employers must consider because of the legal, moral and financial reasons.
Returning to work from maternity leave can be a difficult time for many women in the usual circumstances, but what effect has Covid-19 had on their mental health? What impact could it have on your business?
Legally, employers have a duty to ensure so far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of their employees at work, which applies to psychological health and well-being. This is especially important in present times with the plight of new mothers well documented during the current pandemic. There will undoubtedly be a knock-on effect in the workplace with mental health problems already on the increase. Perinatal mental health can be a complex issue. Correct information, awareness and good communication is vital to ensure any women struggling with their mental health during this period can feel supported in the workplace, reducing the risk of stress. When completing a risk assessment, mental health is just as important as physical health and must be included.
Morally, employers are aware that managing the causes of stress prevents ill health. Women who have given birth during the restrictions of Covid-19 may feel they did not have the experience they should have, felt a lack of control over the situation, a reduction of support and feelings of isolation. The demands of juggling work and a baby can put pressure on many women. Some may be more vulnerable at present which could have a detrimental effect on their mental health. Making a conscious effort to be aware of this, providing support and showing compassion will help women manage and cope with the challenges of coming to terms with their experience, working during a pandemic and caring for a young child.
Financially, long-term sick absence can be expensive for any business. Most long-term sick absence, especially relating to stress and mental health problems have the potential to be prevented. A pro-active approach to support women returning to work after maternity leave, especially at the moment, can have economic benefits and reduce the associated costs should absence occur.
This is an area of mental health that could easily slip under the radar in the workplace but should not be dismissed. Covid-19 is taking its toll including on perinatal mental health.
Four key elements to support employees in these circumstances are awareness, communication, support and compassion.
A pro-active approach will decrease potential costs, increase productivity and motivation, promote a positive culture of good well-being and ultimately make a big difference to returning mothers in these uncertain times.
Jill Gordon – Founder of Complete Mind Solutions