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Mental Health Is Everybody's Business In Today's World

In addition to the very recently notified legal obligation of the state, and all agencies for mental healthcare, there has been a slow but definitive emerging acceptance of the social obligation for mental healthcare

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More than half of the people in corporate business world report significant subjective distress, sleep disturbance, anxiety, feelings of depressive nature and being concerned about their use of alcohol or tobacco. This alarming trend is even more striking than the increasing trend of mental health issues in general population. 

The extent of Mental Health issues in the business world are alarming to say the least, but not surprising, given the pressures of performance in the business and industrial sectors. The traditional HR (Human Resource) approaches focused on enhancing productivity and performance of the employees, but the more recent and contemporary approaches do focus on balancing performance with the well-being of the workforce. 

As such, the more humane dimensions of the HR policies would seem to be already a positive step which is followed in pockets of the business world, thus operationalizing the concept of human capital in place of human resource. 

This positivistic approach to HR needs to be strengthened and enlarged, and at the same time, other newer dimensions of mental health in the business world need to be recognized. Organizations and business houses may do well to move beyond Stress Management to adopt more comprehensive mental health policy and practice; integrating these with other welfare HR policies.

Moving Beyond HR Policies to Address Mental Health

Mental Health Problems cover a large range of issues from clinically diagnosable mental disorders, through alcohol and drug abuse problems and adjustment and emotional problems to softer psychological ill health issues like insomnia, irritability, interpersonal maladjustment etc.

The most common amongst all public health problems wiz depression is expectedly also the commonest in business professionals, but is also as much hidden as in the general population, if not more. 

The efficiency driven compulsions of the systems, and the exaggerated emphasis on excellence and self-control, render help seeking even harder, in business professionals. Organizational emphasis on proficiency and deliverables, with fear of reprisals for any induction of “weakness”, effectively deters anyone in need of help, from seeking help.

The persons with mental disorders very often have hesitation or reluctance to seek help, and the societal attitudes and stigma make it more difficult. 

In business organizations, if the atmosphere is conducive for appropriate help seeking and lack of fear of the consequences on amount of labeling, employees at various levels would find it more possible to reach out for help and get treatment, and thereby,  the organization. The success of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which utilize a twin track approach for persons diagnosed to be suffering from alcoholism, should prompt ­­­­similar approach for all mental health disorders. 

The fact that many mental health disorders are well delineated clinical conditions, and can be successfully treated based on demonstrable scientific principles, should make it worthwhile for the management of business organizations to provide appropriate assistance and/or insurance to their employees for mental health disorders.

Insurance for Mental Health Disorders

Although shrouded in some controversies of substantive nature, there can be no doubt that the newly implemented Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 does have many positives, as far as the legislature provisions, on paper, are concerned. 

These positives include, decriminalization of attempted suicide, more assertive rights based framework for mental health care delivery, involvement of multiple stake holders at most levels of policy and implementation, and the specific provision of insurance benefits being made available for mental health disorders at par with the physical health problems. 

One significant contribution the business community and the corporate world must make, is to implement this specific provision in their own domains for the principle involved and as a demonstration of commitment to mental health, through viable models for mental healthcare.

Mental Healthcare as a Right: Challenge & Opportunity for Viable Business Models   

The slow-emerging trend of conceptualizing and implementing various business models providing high-quality, private mental health care for their workforce members, can make a tremendous impact, and the fact that the new law explicitly provides for mental healthcare as a right amplifies the necessity of moving forward. 

In addition, there is great opportunity for organizations providing insurance and healthcare coverage to align their business products with the new law of the land, and finding a receptive consumer base amongst the leading edge businesses across the country who are taking investment in their workforce seriously. 

Large parts of the business world might be able to get involved in directly or indirectly because of this specific legal provision.

Mental Healthcare as part of CSR   

In addition to the very recently notified legal obligation of the state, and all agencies for mental healthcare, there has been a slow but definitive emerging acceptance of the social obligation for mental healthcare. This has led to a few highly desirable CSR initiatives and support schemes for mental healthcare, but considering the extent and nature of the problem, mental healthcare needs to get its appropriate position in the CSR frameworks, through many more CSR initiatives across the board.

Lead by example: Step Up & Step Out

All of the above and many other ideas deserve to be implemented, not only because they make good business sense, but also because the business world would do well to lead by example. One more possibility in this vein, is for business leaders and corporate honchos to step up, and share their success stories despite mental health problems of which there are plenty. As in happening in the country and these parts of the world, the courage to step out of the closet would be well timed for many reasons.

Time Is Now: Get Involved In Mental Health

It is tempting to do a SWOT Analysis of this idea of active involvement of the business world in mental health, but suffice it to say that while that would be meaningful at some later stage, there is compelling situation in many perspectives, for this to happen now. Time for a meaningful and socially responsible business involvement in mental health is ripe for all the positive reasons, lest it gets thrust upon, for not so positive reasons. The World Mental Health Day on 10th October is the most appropriate occasion to make that commitment for mental health, because mental health is everybody's business, in today's world. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Dr. Nimesh Desai

The author is Senior Psychiatrist and Director Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS)

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