Our earlier piece on employee mental health rights in the workplace looked at what the law says about mental health support at the workplace in India and examined glaring gaps in the legislation. While we wait for legislation to catch up to urgent realities, we must look to companies to implement mental health management strategies and policies.
MENTAL HEALTH AND THE WORKPLACE: AN AREA OF CONCERN
A study conducted by 1to1Help.net, a professional counselling company, on ‘The Mental Health Status of Employees in Corporate India’, highlights just how prevalent mental health issues are amongst corporate employees — one of every two persons in the corporate sector surveyed reported anxiety and depression. They also waited at least a year before seeking professional help,according to The Hindu. The study also highlighted the increasing work and personal life stress as triggers for mental health issues.
And that’s not all — an Assocham study released last year revealed that 42.5 percent of employees surveyed suffer from depression,YourStory reported.
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With individuals spending more than 1/3rd of their adult lives at the workplace, it seems to be an obvious place of intervention. But what are some of the underlying issues, and can we really blame companies for not prioritising mental health-care management, given that there is no binding legislation?
Sourya Banerjee, a lawyer based in Hyderabad, tells The Health Collective, “The Indian legislative process has always reacted to change and has never really been very proactive. So currently workplaces are not essentially bound to be doing much and hence are not sanitised with respect to the kind of mental problems their employees may face and it’s effects.”
Queasy though one may be with the argument, maybe it comes down to pointing out the impact of intervention on the bottom line.
“You may come across multiple workplaces which acknowledge physical health problems but not mental health,” he points out, “That is not to say that no workplace is not taking care of the mental health of their employees. Some have realised that a mentally fit employee results in higher work output.”
WHAT SOME WORKPLACES ARE DOING TO TACKLE MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS
Raja Natarajan, Deputy Managing Director of SAGE Publications shares a decision taken by his company last year, to tie up with ICAS India (Independent Counselling and Advisory Services). It was a proactive measure, Raja says, telling The Health Collective, “SAGE has covered its employees for physical ailments and hospitalisation through Mediclaim facility. All employees are also covered under a Term Life Policy which covers the risk of death and provides financial cover to the family. While all these are for physical conditions and events, we felt the need to create a platform for supporting their Mental Health as well.”
Through Sage’s Employee Wellness Programme, employees and their families can get mental well-being from the 24/7 ICAS counselling service free of charge.
“The entire cost is borne by SAGE,” he shares, calling this a “very user-friendly service” which can be accessed by phone or email. “Face to face counselling service is also available, which puts employees in touch with specialist consultants and counsellors to help them deal with a range of issues, in their private and working life,” he tells The Health Collective.
He emphasises that the service is totally confidential. “Management does not get any reports that divulges details of any of the issues or concerns that an employee might have chosen to discuss with an ICAS consultant.”
An HR professional with another company, Arunesh (who prefers not to share his full name), says that his company has an Energy and Resilience portfolio of training programs, which covers mental health. “Probably workplace and emotional stress management is the only aspect of mental health that we dwell (on),” he tells The Health Collective, “There are awareness campaigns and various sessions where people are informed on how to reduce stress — ranging from physical exercises, yoga, meditation, nutrition (and) overall managing the four energy dimensions well.”
We didn’t get into more detail on the energy dimensions, but he did concede that there’s not much being done on mental health.
We asked Havovi Hyderabadwalla, a consulting Clinical and Forensic Psychologist based in Mumbai, to suggest what workplaces should be doing to tackle mental health concerns.
She shares some key insights with The Health Collective:
- Having access to an in house therapist is crucial. A culture of de-stigmatisation should be created amongst the employees (and) should be cultivated by all
- Open door policies should be created where if someone is having a hard time at work juggling stress, anxiety, depression or the likes they should be able to seek support from their superiors
- Communication between different levels of employee should be accessible
- In case your immediate boss cannot help you there should be someone else who can help you out
- Time Out corners with old school games are always helpful in de-stressing, away from screen time — board games, pool tables, air hockey are some examples
- Access to gymnasium facilities and sleeping pods facilitate healthy time-outs
Raja Natarajan also gives similar advice to other companies. He says, “Don’t waste time thinking about it – go ahead and provide this facility. Happy employees make for a great company that can achieve extraordinary results. It’s an investment in people and there are intangible benefits which cannot be easily measured.”
Of course, as he points out, partnering with the right service providers is important.
Views expressed are personal. Material on The Health Collective cannot substitute for expert advice from a trained professional. Feedback is welcome @healthcollectif