In July 2017, a web developer named Madalyn Parker emailed her team to inform them that she was taking a sick leave for her mental health. Not only did her CEO personally reply to her mail, he applauded her for setting a good example. Her Tweet about this went viral of course — after all, how many employees are open about their mental health, and how many employers are as accepting as hers?
When it comes to mental wellness in the Indian workplace, we are very far away from such conversations. We need to take many steps to destigmatize mental health at work. Here’s why.
Mental Health is Largely Ignored at Work
According to this report by the WFMH and the mental health community, “one in four adults experiences mental health difficulties, yet, prejudice and discrimination are barriers that deprive people of their dignity’ and ‘bringing dignity and awareness to mental health requires action as a community.”
Globally speaking, mental health is not given the attention and care it deserves.
In India, wellbeing is typically associated with physical health. Even though our jobs have become more stressful and demanding, no measures are implemented by the management to deal with the impact this has on our mental health.
And the consequences are severe, such as reduced productivity and lower morale.
Do Indian Companies Do Enough?
Jayshree*, an IT professional at a leading MNC in Pune, shares her thoughts on mental health and the Indian workplace.
“I don’t think the Indian mindset even acknowledges mental health as an issue. The attitude is mostly to brush it off as ‘it’s just stress’ or ‘it happens to everyone’ or ‘just deal with it’.
“We have all these annual health checkups in most organizations today, to detect physical anomalies. If a company includes a gym as a facility, it’s an immediate plus point. But why don’t we have an equal focus on mental health?
“We have an on-site physician in our company, who is there for medical emergencies that may arise. Why don’t we have on-site therapists that employees can confide in?
“One can easily diagnose physical illness, but an employee under mental duress may exhibit little or no outward symptoms! And mental issues often worsen when suppressed.”
(*name changed for privacy)
How Companies Can Support Mental Health
There needs to be a healthy, open conversation about mental health between the employer and the employees.
One needs to be aware and sensitized about mental health issues to be able to do so, which is where the training comes in.
Companies should provide free or affordable counseling so employees are better equipped to manage their issues. And of course, protect them from social stigma and discrimination through awareness and confidentiality.
But these changes could take months, even years. What can we do right now? Simple: we need to deal with factors that cause mental health issues at work, such as stress due to overwork, unfair pay, lack of company culture, lack of inclusion, etc.
It might also help to present employees with work opportunities that actually interest them. Working without purpose could aggravate conditions like depression and burnout.
Above all, employees should not feel that they do not or cannot have a life outside of work. Karoshi (death by overwork) might be a widespread problem only in Japan right now, but it has already sowed its roots globally.
Is your workplace sensitive to mental well-being? Share your thoughts in the comments below.