COVID-19 has had a wide-reaching impact on the property services sector, affecting everything from the way businesses maintain and deliver services, to workplace mental health and wellbeing. Ian Elsey, Operations Director at property services business, Liberty, shares his mental health journey after contracting the virus earlier this year and calls for greater awareness and action to promote mental wellbeing in the sector.
After having been relatively healthy for most of my life, it was a shock to be severely hit by COVID-19, with little I could do to fight against the illness.
As the pandemic took hold, I was very aware of the importance of following the restrictions, to protect both my colleagues and to ensure that our teams could carry out works safely and protect customers. I was careful around hand washing, social distancing and ensuring that colleagues worked from home wherever possible. Despite these measures, I still contracted COVID-19.
Before taking ill with the virus, I was very much in the camp of believing it to be only a ‘flu type’ illness. However, as my symptoms got progressively worse over a period of around 15 days, I found myself hospitalised for a week and having to rely on the NHS and their limited knowledge at that time of what could help me get better.
Physical and mental impact
I focussed on trying to overcome the physical symptoms of COVID when I came out of hospital, but I was unprepared for the significant mental health challenges that I would also face.
I’d always been proud of having worked for Liberty for 27 years and only ever having one day off sick during that time. I found that I really struggled with the feelings of guilt of being off work when colleagues were going through a tough time, as well as dealing with the advice from my doctor that there was no quick fix and that it could take months to fully recover.
Physically I was shocked at how badly the virus had impacted on my lung capacity and how weak I felt. After leaving hospital I was still experiencing high temperatures, blood pressure and heart rate, which fortunately started to calm down after a few days. I had a continuous cough for the following four weeks, which really took its toll, despite knowing that this was a natural reaction to fighting the virus and helping to clear my lungs of any potential legacy virus fibres.
Mental health support
Once the doctor had advised me that I was virus free and the worst was over, I knew I needed to turn my attention to dealing with the impact on my mental health. I sought support from a counselling service which was available for me to access through Liberty, which was a vital first step in tackling the trauma I’d experienced.
Talking to a counsellor gave me the chance to talk openly about what was troubling me and to break down my issues and reach solutions that would work for me.
I was also taught breathing techniques to deal with anxiety, deal with my chaotic mind and order my thoughts to help me put into context what I’d been through. I also received support in how to break my workload down to achieve a better work life balance.
Investing in mental health
Since going through counselling, I have become much more aware of the need for a greater focus on mental health in our sector, particularly as sharing my own experiences has encouraged other colleagues to share more about their own mental health challenges more openly.
I was fortunate in being able to access mental health support through Liberty’s investment in counselling services which are available to all staff, and what is important to me now is raising awareness of these services and encourage more staff to access to them to help their mental wellbeing.
With the Government announcing a £500m support package for mental health services to cope with the increase in demand as a result of COVID-19, it is important for our sector to recognise the need to invest in workplace mental health services and support to better equip our colleagues to manage working life as the pandemic continues.
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