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#ChamberBreakers Season 1, Article 2: Mental Health Support

How CSR can help
the young and the old
beat the pandemic

Some groups of workers are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. #ChamberBreakers uncovers what business can do to help.

In April 2020, just four months after Covid-19’s "patient zero" was first reported in Wuhan China, the Institute for fiscal Studies (IFS) said that mental health in the United Kingdom had already "worsened by 8.1% on average as a result of the pandemic."1 

In a May survey, the Centre for Mental Health (CMH)2  said that this could equate to as many as 500,000 more mental health conditions in Britons over the course of the next year.

By mid-July, the CMH had updated its report, adding: "If there is a second wave of Covid-19 and the economy is damaged further, the effects on mental health will be greater still, and last much longer."3 

As countries around the world enter a new wave of lockdowns, these projections look increasingly likely to become real.

Uneven distribution of distress

The effects of Covid-19 and its economic fallout are not felt equally. Sally McManus, Senior Lecturer in Health at University of London and joint senior author of a study published in the September 2020 edition The Lancet Psychiatry,4  said that people’s life circumstances are a key factor in how they are able to respond.

"We found that, overall, pre-existing inequalities in mental health for women and young people have widened. At the same time new inequalities have emerged, such as for those living with pre-school children."

It’s not only young mothers who are emerging as a new cohort. Research from the UK’s Office for National Statistics cited by charity Age UK showed that in May 6.4 million people aged 70 and over in Great Britain were worried about the effect that Coronavirus was having on their lives. Nearly three million said their mental health had already been affected by Coronavirus.

Just as with the young, many elderly people are finding current mental problems exacerbated, while new ones emerge as a result of the peculiar circumstances of Covid-related isolation and restriction.

Beyond the statistics

The Verizon Business and Yahoo Finance UK #ChamberBreakers podcast series has been talking to workers on the frontline of mental health in the UK to shed light on how different vulnerable groups are being affected by the pandemic. It has been asking: ‘what can businesses do to help the mental health of their workers, and of society at large?’

Hayden Taylor is one such specialist. The founder of social enterprise for young people, Unloc, he has been working with companies and CSR departments to support young people in these troubling times.

Disproportionate toll on the young

"Fifty percent of mental health issues are established by the age of 14," Taylor told the programme. "The UK lockdown has isolated young people away from friends, from family, their school community and all those around them that would normally offer informal support networks and help. 

"The impact caused economically is also a huge challenge. The jobs market looks so scary right now. It is not a hugely attractive proposition for young people setting up businesses when you see businesses small and large closing their doors or announcing redundancies.

"These anxieties will be felt by a whole generation of young people in the impending recession. Covid will amplify those issues further, and amplify the divisions between the haves and have nots in terms of accessing support. This generation pulled the really short straw on this. It's going to be really, really tough."

How business can help

"What corporate CSR departments can do is be plugged into that conversation locally; to work out how they can lend support to those organisations trying to reach young people," Taylor continued. "That could be a kind of expertise, or it can be physical hardware."

"Businesses can find their old tech. They can refurbish it and give it out to community organisations who can cascade it to those in need. But there's lots of opportunities for CSR departments to provide very specific bits of expertise around the types of technologies that charities are using to connect with young people over the Internet."

Connecting business with education

More broadly, Taylor believes that the area business can help most in is education.

"Connections between education and employment are absolutely crucial. The best way to support young people to enter the labour market is to get employers in front of them. It builds aspiration. It gives them opportunities to practice what it means to apply for a job or go for an interview. Without experience, it's difficult to build resilience to those rejections that will inevitably come at future job application stages."

Preparing workers for retirement

As Scotland’s Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie was another #ChamberBreakers podcast guest well placed to suggest how business can help – this time for the elderly.

"Older people feel they've lost time and are lamenting the loss of that time," she told the programme. "They are thinking of five months in a shielding situation, maybe longer if we don't have a vaccine. That’s valuable, precious time to not see family; not be able to take part in family events; not to grieve properly if you've lost someone. Just that thought process can lead to poor mental health."

While the young need help in entering the job market, older people need help leaving it, McKelvie said. "Retirement can be a real trigger point for mental health conditions – with all of the disconnection and loss that you feel from that.

Support volunteering

Both agree that volunteering should be a cornerstone of CSR outreach if it is to have an impact on the mental health of employees and the wider communities they serve.

"Giving people the connections to volunteering opportunities or other creative opportunities is really important," McKelvie said. "One of the things that we do is get our older people involved in our public boards. Because you can have lots of really experienced people alongside younger people to make the boards more diverse. That way we understand the need out there."

"Businesses can do so much more with the holistic package they sell to a new employee or to their current employees," she continues. "‘How can we make you feel part of your community?’ ‘What can my businesses do to support the work that you do?’"

"If employees feel ‘I'm really valued in this workplace, but I've also got something valuable to give that’s separate from this workplace, and they support me to do that’, that's a way that business can help." 

Taylor agrees. "Young people are a more socially aware generation than ever before. They are far more socially conscious. They have greater sense of purpose and mission. And there is really positive force for creating socially responsible businesses."

"That's a  hugely valuable thing to have now that consumers as a whole are desperate to find the businesses that they can trust, where they put their heart on their sleeves and are able to showcase how they're actually being a socially responsible organisation."

"You attract the best workforce. People that want to stay with you," McKelvie added. "A happy workforce equals better productivity, better outcomes, better business - and a better economy."

To see the full list of #ChamberBreakers podcasts on mental health in a time of pandemic, go to


2Centre for Mental Health (2020) Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health. Forecasting needs and risks in the UK: May 2020. London, Centre for Mental Health.


4Mental health before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal probability sample survey of the UK population -