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Why knowledge of mental health is the new essential skill

Mental health was an important topic during the pandemic, second only to the crisis itself. In fact, many analysts suggested that the coronavirus crisis triggered a parallel mental health pandemic, with the Agency for National Statistics reporting that depression rates had almost doubled during the crisis.

For many, one of the most significant upheavals was in the workplace. Thrust from the office to the kitchen table, couch, or home office (if you’re lucky), many people felt the mental strain of being isolated from their colleagues or juggling work and homeschooling.

This has certainly led to greater concern amongst business leaders about mental health, especially as they try to sustain morale as the crisis wears on. However, this is part of a broader trend. As we return to the office after World Mental Health Day, new research indicates that the most desirable professional skills since 2016 have involved well-being.

What the results show

The Skills Network, an independent learning provider, found that since 2016, there has been a 230% uptick in the demand for mental health-related professional skills, such as counselling, personal care, and guidance. At the beginning of 2016, these skills appeared in just 19,200 unique job postings. By June 2021, that figure had increased to 63,492.

This study was carried out to highlight the skills gap in this crucial area. Although generally thought of as part of a soft skills set, knowledge of mental health issues was found to be the 9th-most sought after hard skill, after more hands-on occupations like nursing and warehousing.

Looking closer at the findings

However, even within these hands-on skill sets there was an increased emphasis on mental health. For nursing in particular, mental health competencies were the second most requested skill on job postings, especially after the pandemic.

Turning to the business world, leaders have been urged to be more sensitive to the impact of recent events. This means that it’s more important than ever to demonstrate to employees that they’re valued and that they play an integral role in the company’s growth. This could come from a variety of actions, whether it be consistent positive feedback or more flexible working hours.

Resisting a false sense of security

Now, many businesses are reopening and getting their employees back into the office or on the shop floor. In this context, it’s easy to assume that we’re getting ‘back to normal’ and everyone is eager to get back to work. But research has found that not everyone feels the same way.

The reality is that when it comes to mental health, many will be suffering in silence and hiding the challenges they face going back to work. In turn, they’ll be met with a lack of understanding and support from management and colleagues alike. The reality is that the pandemic pushed many people to new levels of stress and anxiety. Employers must remember that some have been affected more than others.

Compassion is key

As a result, some people will need more time than others to adjust to the ‘new normal’ – and a mental health-oriented skill set will be key. Leaders and managers have to be empathetic, compassionate and understanding of people’s individual challenges. Continuing an open-door policy and offering access to mental health resources will be essential.

As winter sets in, this is more important than ever. Even though we may be through the worst of the pandemic, it’s crucial that we learn from the lessons of the lockdowns and the years prior. The conversation about mental health in the workplace has been active for some time, and in context, we need to sustain momentum.