November 17, 2020

The Effect of Covid-19 on Our Teams’ Mental Health

I’m a worrier. Anybody that knows me well knows this. I also overanalyze things. And by that I mean…oops–overanalyzing again. 

I come by this honestly. My mother was a worrier, and she taught me well. 

I always thought that everybody worries. Imagine my surprise when I was diagnosed some 15 years ago with “generalized anxiety disorder.” And told that not everybody lives in this space. Are you kidding me? I rushed home and called my friend, a clinical psychologist, and expressed my disbelief that I had this…mental health problem. She laughed and said–of course you do. She’s known me a long time. She was reassuring, saying that most executives have a significant level of anxiety. And that it’s part of what makes them successful. Hmmph.

She also said that–although not everyone has my level of anxiety, it’s not uncommon. Neither is depression, nor obsessive compulsive disorder (which my “OCD friends” say is wrong, because it isn’t in alphabetic order). Nor the almost 300 types of mental health issues listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

At the risk of going too wonky on you, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a mental disability as “any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. Examples include major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.”

Not uncommon? Nearly one in five Americans are estimated to have some type of mental illness. That’s almost 50 million people. 

Impact of this pesky virus

It’s not a stretch to suggest that Covid-19–and this crazy period in general–is not helping. Scientists estimate that both anxiety and depression in particular are increasing during this time. Tell that to somebody who has one or the other, and I predict that most would say, “duh.” 

Start with a pandemic, add social isolation, stir in the focus on racial injustice and major economic challenges, and then put political discord as the cherry on top. If there was ever a recipe for increases in mental health challenges, this is it. 

As we know, none of us are having much fun during this period. But this means that some are struggling more than others. And often a lot more. 

What does this have to do with you?

Well, assuming you, the reader, have no such issues, you know a whole bunch of people that do. Even if you would never guess it from seeing them. This means friends, family, and of course people with whom you work.

Which brings me to the point: Each of us is almost certainly working with people (virtually or in-person) who are struggling with mental health challenges right now. Either as their co-worker or their leader.  

The “whole person”

I’ve always been aware that virtually everybody has something major going on in their lives–some drama, something traumatic. The difference now is that there’s more drama, more trauma. Whether it’s a sick family member, fear of getting the virus, aging parents or grandparents, the loss of a friend or family member, the loss of a job–there’s just so much going on. As a result, it’s harder to cover up these things than it used to be. There’s just too much. Right now, people can’t help but show up as a “whole person.” Unfortunately, with some exceptions, we don’t have the training to effectively deal with the whole person. And in many cases we’re interacting via technology, which makes it even harder. Emotional intelligence and empathy over Zoom. Not easy.

And while we could just push this aside and wait ‘til we have a vaccine, psychologists would tell you they’re concerned that the effects on mental health won’t just miraculously disappear. We will likely be dealing with the “whole person” for some time.

Besides, just as we care about ethnic and gender diversity, we need to care about this aspect of diversity as well. 


Click on the article titles below to access resources to assist you in coping with your teams’ mental health:

“The Effect of Covid-19 on Our Teams’ Mental Health” Community Conversation

This Thursday, November 19th at 12 P.M. ET, we’re going to talk about it. We’re going to be joined by a dear friend of mine that is a clinical psychologist (yes, the one mentioned above) who has extensive experience dealing with people experiencing significant stress and trauma. Two of our HR professionals will join to talk about how their organizations deal with these issues, and what resources are available. One of our leaders–in fact, our AZA board chair–will share his story of helping his staff cope with the loss of one of their team members. And an advisor to the Diversity Committee will provide his perspective. We’ll hear from each of them and then spend time hearing from you. Panelists include:

  • Judith Kirkeby, PhD, Clinical Psychologist (retired)

  • Laura Martina, Chief People Officer, Fresno Zoo

  • Charlisa Shelly, Director of Human Resources, Kansas City Zoo

  • Bert Castro, President and CEO, Phoenix Zoo

  • Grayson Ponti, Conservation Interpreter, Dallas Zoo

We won’t solve all the problems. But we’ll begin the conversation. The first step with mental health is to remove the stigma. We’ll begin.

Click here to register.  

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