The number of people seeking workplace counselling for stress, anxiety and burnout has soared in the wake of Covid-19, experts say.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said there had been a significant increase in the number of people experiencing distress after the arrival of Covid-19 and this was also being felt in the workplace.
As a result, mental distress was now the biggest health issue in New Zealand, in his view.
Robinson said ''There is no doubt there is distress in the workplace...it is consistent with other disasters like the Christchurch earthquakes. The sting is really in the tail.''
Statistics show that initially there was a general improvement in mental health during the lockdowns because there was a shared sense of purpose: "fighting together to overcome a common issue''.
However, this upward trend declined as people realised things would not be returning to the way things were before the pandemic. This prompted feelings of grief and loss, Robinson said.
The foundation carried out a survey in December and repeated it again in February. The research was a wellbeing score against the World Health Organisations wellbeing measurement tool. It showed 26 per cent of the population - or about one million people - were in the dangerously low range.
''So that indicates they would be struggling with their mental health. We stand behind these findings.''
He also said the last detailed survey done by the Ministry of Health was 15 years old.
Workplaces took mental health seriously and genuinely wanted to support their teams, Robinson said.
Benestar Group New Zealand general manager Julie Cressey said more workers were seeking help post-Covid.
Counsellors helped staff deal with increased stress and anxiety as well as change, uncertainty and financial hardship.
The earlier an individual sought support, the better. Cressey said.
''We heavily encourage early intervention as like anything the longer you leave something, the harder it is to deal with and giving the fragility of our minds, the longer we ignore signs and symptoms the harder the recovery can be.''
''Burnout'' had also reared its head with some employees working non-stop since lockdown.
''Mental Health isn't discriminatory and the more we talk about the benefits of getting support, and our own mental health journey's the more the normalised it becomes.
''Personally, I think the longer impacts of Covid on mental health are still to be seen.''
New Zealand Association of Counsellors president Christine Macfarlane said a lack of funding and waiting lists were a barrier to those seeking help.
More businesses were seeking support for their staff through Employee Assistance Programmes, as a result of Health and Safety at Work legislation, but often it was for just three or six sessions.
The Ministry of Health had also put in funding for Health Improvement Practitioners but it was not for long-term therapy it was for early intervention.
'What we find is they will go to them and be referred to a counsellor but the funding is not there to continue with the longer-term therapy.''
Macfarlane said increased anxiety, low moods, depression and suicidality were some of the issues people were grappling with.
Stresses in relationships, work stress and financial stress were also key factors.
''We need more services and more long-term support.''
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said mental wellbeing could impact everyone and affect people at the top and bottom of organisational hierarchies.
Businesses had to change most of their day-to-day processes due to Covid-19 and it had either added to or changed, most people's roles.
The stigma around mental wellbeing was gone, he said, and people were being encouraged to seek help.
''When people are stressed or burnt out, even small issues can become major obstacles if people don't have the right tools and perspective to work through them.
''Talking to an independent counsellor can help people face the immediate challenges, but they can also help people address more personal matters as well that can help them at work.''
Ministry of Health general mental health and addiction deputy director Toni Gutschlag said people need to know it was normal to not feel positive all the time.
''It's understandable to feel sad, distressed, worried, confused, or anxious, particularly during a pandemic."
The Government's Covid response package included a dedicated $500 million contingency fund to strengthen health services to fight and contain Covid-19.
A total of $15m from that fund was allocated for mental health and wellbeing services as part of the psychosocial response, she said.
The Ministry of Health said there had been a range of wellbeing surveys conducted over the past 18 months.
These used a range of indicators and tools, and use different methodologies and sample sizes, so they provide slightly different results. However, they provide valuable information about the well-being of people in Aotearoa.
In December 2020, the Ministry analysed Health Pulse surveys conducted over several months and of those surveyed, nearly 88 per cent rated their health as good, very good or excellent.
''While we know that some people are struggling, the results showed that most Kiwis have shown remarkable resilience and are displaying levels of wellbeing [and of psychological distress] consistent with levels prior to Covid.''
She said the World Health Organisations screening tool – scoring below the cut-off was an indication of possible poor mental wellbeing, not confirmation of poor mental wellbeing or evidence of mental illness.
An ACC spokesman said it provided cover for mental injuries that included post-traumatic stress disorder after a physical attack or seeing or hearing a traumatic event at work.
If your physical injury was caused by medical treatment ACC may also be able to cover a resulting mental injury, even if the physical injury isn't covered, he said.
Figures show claims in the Bay of Plenty had jumped from seven in 2018 which cost $19,681 to 18 in 2020 at $532,929.
* Resources to help workplace leaders create work environments where people feel safe, calm, connected and hopeful throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.
* Getting through together – Whāia E Tātou Te Pae Tawhiti is a national mental health and wellbeing campaign brought to you by the team at All Right?
* These resources and others are on the mentalhealth.org.nz website
* An array of self help tools and apps including Covid mental health and wellbeing resources can be found on www.health.govt.nz
* Ministry of Health Need to Talk helpline- call or text1737.
Give:: Think about a skill you have you could share with your whānau or neighbours or simply give a compliment to a loved one.
Take Notice: Notice the things that make you feel good and do them more often. It could be your morning coffee, a walk around the block or playing games with your children.
Stay Curious: Learning new things helps to focus your mind and gives you a sense of purpose. It could be learning a language, a craft, or even mastering a tricky recipe.
Get Moving: Regular movement and exercise helps release tension and stress and gives you an energy boost.
Relax: Find ways to rest, switch off and recharge. Reading, mindfulness, yoga and deep breathing are all great ways to unwind. - Source Mental Health Foundation