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The impact of COVID-19 on mental health

25 October, 2020

Mental health is a key focus for us at PwC and our people are our top-priority, so I want to re-emphasize the importance of mental well-being in our workforce and that starts with supporting our colleagues.

riyadh najjar

Riyadh Al Najjar

COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis which has impacted our lives and emotions, and disrupted our routines and lifestyles. On the 8th of March, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ordered all academic activities to shift to online education to limit the spread of the virus. Shortly after that, social gatherings and events were shut down and lockdown and curfews were announced. The extent of the pandemic has forced many workplaces to close, which in turn, has resulted in a large number of unemployed workers. Although the most susceptible to the virus and its effects are the elderly and medically vulnerable, physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, and isolation have had an impact on everyone. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected people’s mental health and created new barriers for those already suffering from mental instabilities. Through this period, the Kingdom has provided mental, sociological and psychological support to individuals, mainly to help overcome fear, anxiety and depression caused by the crisis. The National Center for Mental Health in Saudi Arabia, in cooperation with a number of specialised platforms, has also launched a group of initiatives. On the 22nd of March, the center, in cooperation with the Labayh Medical Care Platform, launched the ‘Labayh Al Amal’ initiative to provide free psychological counseling through a smartphone application with complete confidentiality. The center has provided more than 20,000 hours of psychological counseling in the last three months. 

The Kingdom has also continued its commitment to serve society and empower its members by sponsoring more initiatives, such as the ‘Qareebon’ smartphone application. The platform provides psychological support services with the help of professional psychologists and social professionals, providing users with the option of text or voice counseling requests, as well as direct lines of communication.

Furthermore, The National Center for Mental Health has launched the 'Promoting Mental Health in the Work Environment' programme, in line with the Saudi Vision 2030, that aims to develop human resources to increase their efficiency and productivity at work. The programme, which launched in the beginning of 2020 and has initially been implemented at more than 30 government agencies, aims to increase mental awareness among public sector employees by providing workers with stress management skills and promoting the importance of mental health. 

The Royal Commission in Jubail has initiated a programme to support its employees psychologically and morally in order to enable healthcare workers at the Royal Commission Hospital to respond to job stress and provide social support in times of uncertainty. Additionally, when the Eastern Province Health Affairs closed its first COVID-19 sampling center in the Kingdom, the Mental Health Department of the same cluster opened a clinic that is entirely dedicated to supporting healthcare workers who are emotionally impacted by the pandemic.

Lastly, The Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control also took part in supporting the community and public by publishing a Preventive Guide for Mental and Social Health, which provides awareness messages to different groups of the population to support their mental and social health during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Like all other organisations around the world, PwC Middle East has seen the impact of the COVID pandemic. The safety and well-being of our staff and clients has been paramount so we were one of the first organisations to institute a 100% remote work policy. One of the reasons we were able to adapt so quickly was due to our investments in technology. We used digital tools to stay connected and look after each other daily through leadership meetings, weekly firm-wide connects as well as programmes on well-being, digital upskilling, stress management, and balancing parenting and work to name a few. Our strong, secure and reliable connectivity platforms have made it possible for us to operate and connect seamlessly. We also ensured that utmost care was provided to any staff and families who were affected by the virus. 

PwC also recently developed a digital wellbeing application, best described as ‘the Netflix of positive mental wellbeing’, as it has resources needed to boost moods and support in helping our people maintain a positive perspective. It is easy to use and with a variety of dynamic content curated by industry professionals, the application is a library of nutritionists, therapists and business leaders to help us stay motivated, fight burnout and build resilience. 

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives globally, and the lack of a vaccine to control its transmission has led to a great deal of concern over its containment. We need to accept that the pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. We have all had to cope with a new reality and a new set of obstacles and restrictions. So, it is only normal to feel irritated, anxious, fearful and concerned. The key now, is to rise above, and focus on the positives – the learnings and the priorities that have come out of this period. With our healthcare system, the COVID-19 Higher Monitoring Committee, the readiness of the Kingdom to face a pandemic and the resilience of the people of the Kingdom, we are bound to come out of this stronger.

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Riyadh Al Najjar

Riyadh Al Najjar

KSA Country Senior Leader & Transformation Management Unit Leader, PwC Middle East

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