As Mainers await a COVID-19 vaccine, the pandemic has put a damper on the holiday season. Time once spent at Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations will now be spent staying home.

More than 60 percent of employees report losing at least one hour per day in productivity because of COVID-related stress. MIA Studio/

One thing is clear: The pandemic is taking a physical and mental toll. Not only do COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, but anxiety and depression have set in. Stress has skyrocketed. Since March, calls to Maine’s Intentional Warm Line have gone up 44 percent, with callers spending more time on the phone with peer support specialists.

In truth, we have only begun to scratch the surface of the pandemic’s long-term repercussions for mental health. Disruptions to the education system, for example, may affect our children for years to come. Changes to daily workflow may leave millions of employees shaken and scarred. To quote New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo, “Trauma will endure long after the vaccine has rid us of the virus.”

This presents a unique challenge for Maine’s employers, who must prepare for a new wave of mental health struggles in the workplace. Whether they are on-site or remote, working Mainers have never had to deal with the restrictions associated with a novel virus. Such a rapid, unprecedented adjustment has displaced countless workers – psychologically, if not physically.

The numbers don’t lie. Nearly 70 percent of employees claim the COVID-19 pandemic is the most stressful time of their professional career. Even more (88 percent) report experiencing moderate to extreme stress.

Employers are not immune, either. On the contrary: Businesses large and small are now faced with economic uncertainty and a stressed-out workforce, which is less productive now than a year ago. More than 60 percent of employees report losing at least one hour per day in productivity because of COVID-related stress. Stress is eating away at the bottom line.

Maine’s job creators need to recognize the pandemic’s mental health repercussions and respond accordingly. This means providing workers with the resources to manage their stress levels and maintain their productivity, if not increase it.

Especially for small-business owners, the team is the top priority. Without a healthy and productive one, small business simply cannot survive the pandemic. That’s why Allagash Brewing Co. – one of Portland’s most well-known brands – recently partnered with [email protected] There are generally two obstacles to securing mental health support: finding a therapist and affording the cost. With the help of WellSpace, Allagash can now connect its team members with the mental health services they need to combat pandemic-related stress. At the same time, the Allagash-WellSpace collaboration seeks to foster empathy and goodwill in the workplace, helping to remove the stigmas related to treating mental health challenges as they arise.

There should be no stigma when it comes to mental health. Let’s be clear: There is no shame in it. Stress and other mental health issues affect millions of Americans nationwide, especially during a pandemic. We need to normalize these struggles and encourage people to get help.

What workers need most are employers receptive to their needs. Whether it is carried out in person or via telehealth, mental health counseling can be the difference between struggling and succeeding at work. It’s no wonder that nearly 70 percent of employers plan to boost their mental health offerings within the next year. Doing so makes businesses like Allagash Brewing Co. better places to work for current employees and more attractive destinations for future ones.

But, in truth, the time to act is now. The expansion of mental health services is a win-win, protecting employees’ state of mind and preserving the productivity that allows their employers to turn a profit, hire more workers and expand their businesses. Focusing on mental health is inextricably linked to economic growth.

The pandemic’s next wave is coming. Employers and employees cannot afford to wait. Let’s work together to expand mental health counseling for all Mainers.

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