Just as things seemed like they were getting closer to normal in New Jersey, COVID-19 infection rates are soaring across the rest of the country. As a result, Gov. Phil Murphy, with an abundance of caution, has taken several painful but necessary steps to halt additional business openings to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state. Some workers may even be wondering if recent openings will need be rolled back as they have in other states, requiring them to file for unemployment again.
Uncertainly looms for many workers across a vast range of industries. As a result, the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ) is concerned about the challenges the current state of the coronavirus brings to New Jersey’s workforce.
As some businesses continue to return to work, mental health issues won’t magically disappear. Some employees and their family members may have been infected themselves with the virus. And it is not out of the question that several may have experienced the death of a friend or relative. For others, the idea that the months of sacrifice New Jerseyans have endured to flatten the curve still hasn’t resulted in a return to the office, to some sense of normalcy, can lead to feelings of desperation. Imagine the stress and grief that these employees may be carrying. It is important for employers to recognize these challenges.
Some New Jersey employers have existing Employee Assistance Programs that employees can turn to for support and coping strategies as they return to work. I strongly encourage employers to remind their workforce of these programs and to encourage them to take advantage of the services they provide.
But many New Jersey companies don’t have such a resource for their employees. Make no mistake, many employees may be finding it difficult to deal with the fear, loneliness, anxiety, anger, grief and feelings of disconnection that have become so widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic. They may fear that going back out “into the world” will make them vulnerable to the infection – and guilty that they could potentially bring it home to their family. In fact, a recent Gallup poll reports that nearly half of Americans are concerned about being exposed to the coronavirus at their place of work. They may be concerned that indoor recreation and non-essential retail will be forced to close again, putting them back in the same situation they were in a few short weeks ago. There are any number of stress-inducing factors that may emerge for your employees. Fortunately, these employees have a free, confidential resource to turn to.
The New Jersey Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling Program is available to help. The program’s mission is to assist individuals and communities in recovering from the effects of natural and human-caused disasters through the provision of community-based outreach and psycho-educational services. This need is especially acute during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers are strongly urged to make their employees aware of the free, confidential helpline at 866-202-HELP (4357). Trained mental health staff are on call to provide emotional support and referrals for crisis counseling when needed, or to simply listen to a caller’s problems and concerns. The helpline is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., 7 days a week. It has the ability to quickly patch in interpreters fluent in 165 languages.
In addition, New Jersey residents can text NJHOPE to 51684 to be connected with a specialist who can answer questions, provide emotional support or referrals to needed resources.
Employers, please consider prominently posting and informing your workforce of these important resources.
Robert J. Kley is chief operating officer and vice president of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey.