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Mental Health At The Work Place

In a skewed way, the companies think that not speaking about the problem means that everything is under control and all is well - our workers are happy and emotionally healthy

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The subject of mental health and illness has always been a taboo in our country. While over the years, in our personal space, there is some openness around it and people are now more comfortable in sharing their emotional breakdowns with family and friends, in our work space, it continues to be a topic that is usually kept brushed under the carpet. In front of our co-workers, managers and bosses, we still like to put up a facade of normalcy. Although this pretense may be seen as the need of the hour, it is rather unfortunate as we spend most of our waking hours in the office or outside home.

It is a surprise that as much as the corporate world talks about psychological well - being of their employees, their willingness to acknowledge or their tolerance to issues pertaining to mental health, psychiatry and / or psychological disturbance is rather low. In a skewed way, the companies think that not speaking about the problem means that everything is under control and all is well - our workers are happy and emotionally healthy. However, that idea is far from the truth. In our current lives, it would be difficult to assume that there is no stress and no pressure of daily living. We are living in a world full of challenging demands, personally and professionally, and the struggle to balance the two is never an easy one. Despite being aware of this harsh reality, organisations seem wary of acknowledging the need for psychological help and providing its availability for their workers. There could be several reasons for this that might seem understandable at the surface but in the long run they do more damage to the overall growth of the company and its workers.

Very often in my practice, I have had very senior / top level executives telling me that they cannot afford to show their ‘depressed or anxious self’ at work. It could cost them their job, position or a long-awaited promotion. The stakes are too high and they must continue without batting an eyelid - Keep your personal problems at the office door is the motto! There is a huge fear that talking about their emotional problems would change people’s perception of them. They would be viewed as weak or vulnerable and may be incapable of performing their job properly. This fear of being judged negatively is extremely anxiety - provoking for them. The threat of being pushed down the hierarchical ladder, being moved to another ‘less’ ambitious role or politely being asked to leave (aka being fired), is too overwhelming to bear. This perceived dread prevents them from opening up to anyone, forcing them to continue with the grind in a robotic manner until an actual psychological or psychiatric breakdown occurs and they themselves decide to quit. This Catch-22 situation can be easily averted if only the organisation, specifically the Human Resource department, tackles this problem more sensitively.

What companies need to understand is that their real growth and expansion lies in ‘connecting’ with the employees at a human level. Stress and tension has permeated so deeply in our lives that the only way to deal with it is to address it. If your employees are your asset, then it is the responsibility of the HR to create an understanding and supportive environment at the office. It is imperative that they engage in understanding not only their occupational but psychological needs as well. Fostering a culture where the employees feel comfortable in the knowledge that their emotional vulnerability would not be viewed as their incapacity to deliver, could make a big difference in the employer - employee relationship. It is this trust and acceptance and the confidence that they are not viewed merely as a money making resource that will make the employees go that extra mile for their company.

A common hurdle in establishing this atmosphere at the workplace is the HR’s limited understanding and ability to deal with issues pertaining to mental health. They fear the consequences of highlighting the existence of mental illness due to their lack of awareness and poor knowledge about the subject. Thus, the first step would require sensitizing the HR team with the basics of mental health and emotional wellness. Creating effective training modules on psychological health such as learning how to manage emotions, work - life balance, identifying early warning signs of depression or anxiety, knowing when to make a referral to a mental health expert i.e. a psychologist and / or a psychiatrist could be some excellent ways to equip the HR personnel to figure out who is in distress.

Behavior management and emotional development are important pillars of an employees’ personality that cannot be left unattended. The sooner you identify the problem and nip it in the bud, the quicker the recovery of the individual. This not only saves the person from further psychological and emotional damage but also the organization from losing a valuable resource that has possibly been a performer in the past and has the potential to deliver in the future as well.

As humans, once in a while, we all stumble and sometimes we could crack under pressure. The challenges of managing a personal, social and occupational life effectively could take a toll on our emotional and mental health. However, with the right kind of support and help, we can once again restart and work effectively towards our goals.

Al though we still have a long way to go, the trend seems to be changing and showing an encouraging shift in the attitude of the HR teams where several initiatives are being taken to focus on holistic development of the employees. Hopefully, in the coming years we see a positive change that is needed, acknowledged and acted upon.

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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Mental Health

Dr Sanjay Chugh

The author is a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist

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