India is the land of traditions, rituals, stereotypes, and strongly held beliefs. Yes, these characteristics make us one of the countries with the most vibrant and exotic cultures. But sometimes we are also the most ignorant. Out of these millions of people, a major chunk works in the corporate world.
Investing in Employee Mental Health:
We attach a stigma to simple facts of life and create a new taboo. Millions of Indians suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, addiction disorders, and other mental health issues. If you don’t believe me, just google about the mental health crisis in India. You will find various articles and research papers stating that India’s mental health is rapidly deteriorating and something needs to be done about it. A 2016 study involving over 6,000 employees in India found that 80 percent of the participants showed symptoms of anxiety while 55 percent had symptoms of depression. Yet, we treat mental health problems like a myth.
I think it is easy to say that organisations in India need to do something about the mental health of their employees. Why? Well, because it is the ethical thing to do. I am sure that simple fact will not be enough to convince the corporate giants of our country. How about the fact that the World Health Organization estimates that India will suffer economic losses amounting to a staggering 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions between 2012 and 2030?
From Stigma to Success
Mental health conditions affect an individual’s capacity to be efficient and productive. So what? You can just get rid of these employees or simply avoid hiring them. Right?
People with the best skills and innate talent can have mental health issues and you want them on your team. Your star performer can begin to show symptoms of depression and I am sure you can’t just let them go. The most brilliant minds can be blocked by the darkness of mental health impairments.
It is common sense that better mental health would lead to increased productivity, creativity and better teamwork, which in turn leads to increased profits. And on top of that creating a culture of physical and mental wellness will help in retaining and attracting the best talent. It is time to take mental health concerns seriously. Yes, it is not all bad. Organisations have started celebrating World Mental Health day. Stress management and burnout have been a hot topic for a long time. Millennials have started talking about mental health and have become more aware, but they still remain inept to cope with mental health concerns and are more vulnerable to it.
Building a Culture of Care
There is a lot of talk in the town about policies and interventions revolving around mental health. The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India is trying to ensure that mental illness also gets covered like physical illness. Organisations globally are creating leave policies that allow people to take an off on bad mental health days. Creating such policies and interventions can be complicated as mental illnesses are complex and often affect different people differently. The coping strategies, treatment approaches, time taken to recover and ability to function can vary greatly from one person to another.
All this complexity can become very discouraging. Policies can be put in place but it will not matter unless people change their outlook regarding mental health. This means that companies will have to bring about a change in their core culture. This will include creating a nurturing and supportive work environment where people can freely talk about their mental health. It’s just like they talk about their physical health. Of course it will take a lot of time and strategic planning to change mindsets. Where can we begin? As a corporate employee, L&D professional and someone who has sought treatment for anxiety and depression. I firmly believe that employers need to create awareness and educate their employees about mental health.
Breaking the stigma
None of the policies or resources provided will help unless individuals feel that it is safe to express their mental health concerns. Nobody will apply for a mental health leave if they think that their manager will label them as lazy and unmotivated. It is really important to first create an environment where people suffering from mental ailments do not feel ashamed or threatened. An individual that is fighting depression every day, has to push himself out of bed and take a few moments to prepare himself in order to face the outside world. They do not want to hear the words “ It is all in your head. Get over it.” That individual’s co-workers need to be sensitized about mental health issues. How to be supportive, and how their support can make things better.
Workshops, training, and e-learning can create a huge impact when it comes to changing mindsets. Knowledge and awareness is the key to bringing much-needed change in how we as a society talk about and perceive mental health. The bottom line is that people spend most of their time at work. It needs to be a place where they can heal and become the best versions of themselves.