The world has changed significantly since the COVID-19 outbreak.
International borders have closed, curfews have been introduced, and domestic travel has been limited. Many of us understand that these responses are necessary to slow the spread of the virus and support health care systems worldwide, but these changes bring with them a mental health cost that will continue to challenge the resilience and wellbeing of all of us in the months ahead.
With the United Nations predicting COVID-19 could plant the seed for a global mental health crisis1, governments, health care organisations, communities and businesses must apply the lessons from the pandemic response and flatten this new mental health curve early.
At BHP, we have been alert and deeply engaged on the mental health of our people dealing with COVID-19 from the onset of the pandemic.
There is increasing consensus among health professionals that taking care of our mental health is just as important as our physical health2, both at work and at home. So when we implemented stringent health and safety measures across our operations and offices in response to the virus, we were also focused on building the mental resilience of our people.
We launched a live wellbeing survey early on in the crisis to provide support in real time. From the data, we were able to understand triggers early and provide people with services to promote a better headspace. To assist our teams globally through COVID-19, we also needed to support their loved ones. To this end, we made all of our mental health tools available to their families.
At some Australian locations, this meant relocating international or interstate FIFO employees and their families to their work location to avoid long quarantine periods and, where possible, keep families together. In other locations, simple things like scheduling a break in a time critical maintenance activity to call loved ones or offering flexible hours to better suit those working from home. These were in addition to our existing global measures like our Resilience Program, Employee Assistance Program, leader training and support, and dedicated awareness campaigns. We will continue to evolve these over time.
Since we took these steps, we have seen a marked improvement based on our survey results. But let’s be real here, that doesn’t mean we don’t all struggle from time to time and when we are caught in the centre of things, it gets hard.
We will continue to improve how we support our people and are constantly exploring new and innovative ways to strengthen mental resilience so we are all better equipped to manage these prolonged periods of uncertainty.
We also acknowledge that the threat of a global mental health crisis does not stop within the mine gate. Such is our commitment to supporting the communities where we live and operate, in FY2020 we invested US$37.5 million3 in health and wellbeing initiatives in Australia, the USA and Chile in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Similar proactive steps from companies like us along with policy and funding support from governments and health organisations will help to avoid overburdening the mental health sector and the UN’s predictions coming to fruition.
We have seen examples of some countries that have already taken action, like Australia, with the appointment of Dr Ruth Vine as the first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health. With bold steps like these we have a chance at removing the stigma long associated with mental health and find the resilience society will need to navigate through to a post pandemic world.
3. Data includes social investment costs on a BHP equity share basis for BHP operated Assets and joint ventures in the FY2020 period. Social investment data is defined as voluntary contributions and associated administrative costs related to BHP’s public target to invest 1 per cent of pre-tax profits (calculated on a three year historic rolling average) as published in the FY2020 BHP Annual Report.