LEVICK is a strategic crisis communications and public relations firm located in Washington, DC. Our experts support businesses across industries by providing communications strategy and reputation management services. For more on our insights and expertise on the Coronavirus pandemic, visit our COVID-19 experience page. For mental health resources, visit Nami.org.
The Last Normal Day
I remember vividly our last day in the office. Gathered in a conference room, our CEO Richard Levick candidly discussed what life would look like during the coronavirus quarantine. He wasn’t worried about the work – we knew we could be fully operational remotely. Richard wanted to make sure that we took care of not just ourselves, but each other. “None of us know what anyone else is going through day-to-day, and we need to remember that. We need to have patience,” he said. While I was grateful for his candor, I was also skeptical if we would really be able to follow through on what he asked of us. After all, LEVICK is a crisis firm in the midst of a global crisis.
To my pleasant surprise, our remote office has time and again found ways to connect and maintain a positive company culture. Team members call each other just to check in. LEVICK leadership schedules weekly staff meetings, virtual happy hours, games and contests to break up our weeks, and I feel as balanced now in the workplace as I did before the quarantine began.
That said, being alone in a 500-square-foot studio apartment for six weeks straight with no end in sight is challenging. I’m sure for many people, there is fear surrounding not just concerns for physical health, but our mental health during this pandemic.
Removing the Stigma
Recently, our firm interviewed Dan Gillison, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who answered a question I had regarding the Coronavirus pandemic’s potential long-term effects to our mental health. “Coming out of this, when you look at over 50,000 passings in the United States and 26 million people out of work, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of anxiety and depression,” he said. “Addressing the stigma and the shame is going to be very significant as we come out of this.”
I’ve always been a firm believer that we should be more open and frank in discussing our mental health needs. The taboo that still surrounds depression, anxiety, grief and trauma make us feel uncomfortable in broaching those subjects with workplace colleagues or in mixed company. We should use our Big Pause to recognize an irrefutable fact: mental health is one of the biggest issues faced in modern society – more than 11 million adults in the U.S. struggle with severe mental illness (SMI) and some three in ten U.S. adults [31.1% of U.S. adults] experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
“We need to be comfortable having a conversation about reducing and silencing the shame.” – Dan Gillison, CEO of the National Alliance of Mental Illness
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed schools and businesses catering more towards mental health awareness and support. Society as a whole is learning how and when to talk about mental health. We are learning how to show support for those who are struggling. My alma mater, the University of Georgia, shared a plethora of resources through their CAPS program; and my employer, LEVICK, ensures we receive the health support we need through various HR initiatives. In general, people are getting better at talking about mental health challenges and making it a part of everyday conversation.
But I don’t think anyone anticipated or prepared for the consequences of a global pandemic. And I don’t think anyone knows, even now, what the long-term implications of self-quarantine will be on mental health in our country.
In Crisis is Opportunity
As Richard Levick often says, in any crisis lies opportunity. For as challenging as this time is for us, there is opportunity for growth that we should not pass up. Removing our physical office has pulled back the curtains. We see coworkers in their homes, lounging in comfortable clothes, surrounded by family, loved ones and pets. We are seeing each other beyond the person we present in the office. This physical disconnection is connecting our company in ways I did not imagine we would ever explore. And I’m grateful for it.
This pandemic is going to permanently change the way office life functions. Whether it’s greater flexibility in working from home or greater acceptance for someone’s need to take a mental health day, we must recognize the positive implications of a better work-life balance.
We must remember our coworkers as the people we see on the other side of the Zoom video conference – no makeup, no blazer, yet doing essential work from the comfort of their home. We are taking care of business while taking care of ourselves.
The Big Pause
While I recognize the severity of the situation, it’s also important to recognize that the coronavirus pandemic has paused our society in a beautiful way. A way that I hope is permanent. It has not just broken down the barriers of office culture – it has stripped away at the barriers surrounding mental health. I am proud that we have adapted to adversity and embraced conversations about mental health in and out of the workplace. Business leaders across the country are faced with this challenge of disconnection, and hopefully, they are taking the same opportunity to connect, to learn and to grow as a company.
There’s no way to know when the pandemic will end or how this will affect our lives. All we can do now is decide what to do with this opportunity. What we can learn from our collective experience?
Maria Stagliano is a public relations professional whose work ranges from high-profile crises to creative message development for various clientele. She has experience working on crisis communications strategy for cybersecurity breaches, reputation management, food safety, school safety, environmental advocacy, racial issues and public health concerns.