The world is currently fighting two battles; a physical health crisis with COVID-19 and a mental health crisis from living in constant anxiety and fear due to a number of psycho-social contributors. In India, with the lives of 1.3 billion people brought to a sudden standstill, the Indian Psychiatric Society recorded a 20% rise in the incidence of mental illness within a week of the outbreak!
With at least one in five Indians now suffering from some degree of mental illness, what does that mean for the corporate India mental health scene?
Workplace stress is often a neglected aspect of workplace well-being. A variety of factors such as poor working conditions, heavy workload, zero work-life balance, bullying, harassment and team conflict increase stress at work. To make matters worse, the stigma around mental health is so severe that employees either prefer keeping it a secret or brushing it off to avoid the negative stereotyping that usually follows.
“You’re so young, why do you need therapy?” “Why is your mood so erratic? Are you bi-polar?” “Mental health is a millennial fad! We didn’t have all these mental illnesses back in our day.”
If any of these statements sound familiar, it brings us all one step closer to the truth – that mental health is not given the platform it deserves and viewing it as taboo can be detrimental if employees are not offered professional support.
Mental Illness Is A Silent Killer
Chronic stress is an occupational hazard. 18% of global depression cases arising from India alone, making it the most depressed country in the world. It is a well-known fact that depression and anxiety are not the only outcomes of stress. Hypertension, weight loss or gain, diabetes, increased risk of work-related accidents and suicidal ideation are examples of how physical health is impacted by unaddressed mental illness.
This link between mental and physical health is powerful enough for organizations to encourage employees to maintain a good work-life balance. Serious mental illness can not only reduce life expectancy by 10-20 years, but also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 53%! Given the current crisis and impact of mental health problems, are companies finally acknowledging the dire need for mental health services at work?
Securing Employee Mental Health
For the first time in human history, everyone will have at least have a ‘touch and go’ with mild depression or in the extreme ‘some form of tension’ to the impending financial loss or a job loss. A combination of fear, anxiety, isolation, self-harm and suicidal ideation is ravaging the corporate mental health space. Organizations have roped in psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals to help tackle the psychological suffering brought on by the pandemic. Mental well-being webinars, counselling sessions and guidance on self-care while working from home are a few ways in which companies have reached out to employees to help them manage their mental health. This significant surge in demand for mental health services has only reinforced the need for a more permanent set-up for well-being programmes at work.
How Companies Can Survive In The Age Of Anxiety
Of the 11 lakh registered companies in India, only 1,000 have a structured Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for mental health. This highlights the unpreparedness of organizations, and also serves as a warning to gear up for the incoming wave of mental health issues at work. Besides developing a strong EAP, it needs to be inclusive of a diverse workforce as well.
Although the psycho-social impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come, there are ways to rise above it and utilize healthy coping strategies both professionally, and personally. While wearing a mask for safety is the new normal, organizations need to take structured steps to unmask the stigma of mental health and ensure that employees are offered well-being support and professional help at work. Offering an EAP program that provides professional counselling, work culture workshops, self-care tips and an overall atmosphere of employee support is a good place to start. Creating a workforce that breaks the silence on mental health and combats the stigma of seeking support requires empathy. Starting the conversation is the secret sauce.
Building an organizational culture that thrives on effective feedback, gratitude and compassion is the first step towards ensuring that mental health initiatives are inclusive to all employees.