The mounting mental health implications of the Covid-19 pandemic are already coming to light, and will likely far outlast the virus itself, argues Dr Nick Taylor  

All of our lives have been affected in some way by the Covid-19 pandemic. For over two months now, the UK has been in a state of lockdown, with many people separated from their friends and families, unable to go about their usual routines. It has impacted us in many areas, not least our mental health.

Our mental health is determined by three pillars in life: Physical characteristics (such as biology and brain health), Social conditions (such as our relationships and culture), and Psychological factors (such as our thoughts and emotions). These areas are interconnected and we should strive to maintain balance across the three to thrive in life. Damage to one of them can have a negative impact on our entire mental wellbeing ? but Covid-19 poses challenges to all three.

Our physical health is at risk due to reduced movement and physical activity. Our psychological health is affected by uncertainty and our lack of control over the situation. Our social conditions have been impacted by restricted face-to-face interaction with our friendship network and family members. Put these three together and we're now in a position where it is very likely that we will see a mental health pandemic.

Indeed, the mental health implications of the Covid-19 pandemic are already coming to light. A recent report by Unmind and REBA demonstrated that almost 8 in 10 organisations have seen an increase in requests for mental health support as a result of the pandemic.

Reactive mental health solutions won't be enough. We cannot rely on mental health charities and the NHS to mitigate the mental health pandemic, which will likely far outlast the virus itself. We must adopt a long-term solution that empowers everyone with the tools they need to look after their own mental health.

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This means tackling the stigma and changing our perceptions of mental health. Too often we think of our mental health as binary ? 'good' or 'bad' ? when really we exist on a spectrum. Mental health is something we all have all of the time, and the stigma surrounding it exists because as a society we only tend to discuss it when it has deteriorated.

As one of the key factors that enable us to lead happy and fulfilling lives, our mental health is something to be celebrated. That's why it's so important that we give it the attention it deserves and take a proactive and preventative approach to support it ? just as we do with our dental hygiene. (We are all taught from a young age to brush our teeth for a few minutes each day to prevent tooth decay, so why don't we take the same approach to nurturing our mental health?)

In the coming months and years, businesses have a duty to safeguard their employees against the mental health pandemic. This isn't only to protect their staff, but also to protect their business' recovery. As Unmind and REBA's report demonstrated, over half of organisations believe the mental health implications of Covid-19 will have a negative effect on their business' performance in the next year.

Organisations must act now and invest in their employees' wellbeing. Many companies are already taking steps, with over 70% planning to increase their investment in mental health ? but every employer is responsible for stymieing the impact.

There have never been more solutions to hand. Lockdown put into practice the immense potential of technology to help us connect with one another. Meanwhile, the use of mental health technology has surged as people seek ways to combat stress and anxiety during the pandemic while working in isolation. We mustn't forget the transformative power of this technology when we return to work.

We must realise the benefits of supporting employee health in a range of ways ? not just financial and physical ? and take advantage of technology's potential to reach our workforces, wherever they are, at any time. Already, 60% of organisations are planning to increase their investment into such digital mental health tools, but we must ensure this is part of a long-term strategy, and not simply a 'quick fix'.

Covid-19 has posed serious challenges to our physical health. But if we don't act now, we may experience a mental health pandemic that could be just as damaging to businesses as the virus itself. We must take the opportunity now to educate our workforces, lift the stigma around mental health, and find ways to support each other as we navigate the next stages.

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