Why Mental Health Concerns Cannot Be Left at Home

A 2018 survey by TLLLF and Kantar Public indicate gross ignorance and lack of empathy among educated Indians.

Modern work culture has had massive changes in the recent decades with more attention given to the physical wellbeing of the workforce. This ranges from the aesthetics of the office to the ergonomics of the equipment used. But we often tend to overlook the mental wellbeing aspect. In this altered reality, it is safe to say that work life also plays an important role in determining a person’s mental health and wellbeing. Ideally, this spill over should be channeled to be a platform for intervention too.

A 2018 survey by TLLLF and Kantar Public indicate gross ignorance and lack of empathy among educated Indians. When asked to describe the symptoms of severe mental illness 56% said that '(people with mental illness) would speak to themselves' (symptoms of Schizophrenia). 62% of the respondents used terms like 'retard', 'crazy', 'mad', 'careless', irresponsible' to describe people with mental illness. These indicate a high level of stigma and lack of awareness among people about mental illness.

There are two aspects to the current stigmatized scenario of mental health and wellbeing, viz a viz: the patient and their immediate society. The patient fears the society’s perception to the extents of not getting timely help and the society catalyzes the fear with their unempathetic perspective and severe lack of understanding.

68% of respondents of the survey indicated that people with mental illness should not be given any responsibility and 60% said that mental illness is lack of self-discipline and will power. Let us put these survey results in a patient’s context. Every 3 out of 5 managers in their organization, would never understand the problem and will blame them for not performing the KPIs. It will be chalked up to their lack of will to overcome the situation. Their fear of being sidelined from assignments, and a lack of empathetic culture is evident from the above responses.

This is the reality for many of us who must manage work life with mental illness of varying intensities - from anxiety to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. These, unlike the popular belief, cannot be left at home to deal with after work. There is a need for a deliberate and conscious effort to improve the mental well-being of our workplace. Deploying a plethora of programs and bringing policy level changes to foster an empathetic environment can be a good beginning.

Flexible hours and Job redesign

Studies by Durham University on the impact of flexible work hours indicate that self-scheduling of working hours has several direct health benefits including controlled BP, improved sleep patterns alongside the secondary outcomes such as a developed sense of community and social support within the workplace. Another study by Kingston University indicated that workers who are provided with a flexible schedule are generally have increased job satisfaction and decrease in attrition rates. Flexible work hours give a certain sense of control over life which is especially important for the people struggling with mental health issues. This also helps in finding time to attend therapies and meditation sessions during the day.

Most employers these days have programs that address topics related to the general well-being of their employees. However, most research indicates that these have lesser impact on improving mental health as stress is an intrinsic part of the modern work culture. Job redesign can help in improving job satisfaction among the employees by matching the right aspiration and skill set to the right job profiles. The improved job satisfaction permeates to all other aspects of the individual and helps in improving their mental health.

Addressing negative workplace dynamics

Workplace and its culture are directly proportional to mental health. Stigma associated with mental illness, due to various reasons can make employees distrustful of opening-up to managers or colleagues. Most people believe that admitting mental issues in the workplace will damage their career. Organizations that realizes the importance of recruiting and retaining talent have already recognized the relation between mental wellbeing and strong performance. They have initiated programs to improve awareness and have policies that recognize the gravity of mental health.

It is imperative that future workplaces need to take an objective stand by adopting indicators like the Mind's Workplace Well-being Index. This will help them measure their improvement, benchmark with other employers and more importantly find out what their employees think about the support they are getting in addressing mental issues.

Supportive and confidential communication with management

Identifying and respecting employees beyond their work personas will help organizations and managers to take informed decisions on subjects as sensitive as mental health and wellness. It becomes imperative that the management is supportive, confidential, and empathetic. The environment should be conducive for the employee to discuss and seek help, if need be with the help of their managers. Fear of discrimination should be put to rest while assurance of confidentiality should be boosted.

Mental health programs should be mandatorily included in every forward-looking corporate’s wellness agenda. But this should go beyond efforts to generate awareness. In the AON Emotional Health Survey of 2019, though 91% of participating organizations believed supporting employees with stress-related illness, most played an educational role. The recommendation was for the organizations to provide education, counselling and mental health first aid support. This is echoed by employees in another 2019 survey by AON (Benefits & Trends survey 2019).When asked on what they expected from the employers about 80%of the employees sought better awareness and handling of mental health issues .

According to a report by KPMG Australia,2018, the influence of mental illness on the workforce participation rate is such that the real improvement in mental health rate could improve workforce participation by 30%. It also estimates ROIs of about 10$ for every 1$ invested in maintaining mental health and wellbeing of the workplace.

There is lots to be gained for every employer by investing in well-designed programs that will address the needs of employees suffering from mental illness and improve the overall mental wellbeing of individuals in the organization.

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