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Importance of Mental Health Awareness at Work

Importance of Mental Health Awareness at Work

While efforts for mental health awareness in the space has picked up pace, there still is a long way to go. Recent studies and research has shown the direct link between mental health and performance or productivity.

To understand why mental health awareness at the workplace is an issue to be addressed immediately one must look at the bigger picture of how serious the concern really is. Numbers are absolute, and make an impact in a way that words cannot. So here are some numbers to put things into perspective, before we delve further into the topic.

Mental Health Awareness – A Reality Check

  • 56 million Indians, or 4.5% of India’s population suffer from depression.
  • While nearly 10 per cent of the population has common mental disorders, 1.9 per cent of the population suffers from severe mental disorders. [Source: WHO]
  • The WHO has defined sustainable development goals and elaborated the impact of mental illnesses and suicide on them. The suicide rate in India in 2015 at 15.7/100,000 is higher than the regional average of 12.9 and the global average of 10.6. Suicide is the leading cause of death among those aged 15–29 in India. [source: Mental Health Awareness: The Indian Scenario]
  • There is just one psychiatrist for four lakh Indians. Another expert said there were 4,000 psychiatrists, 1,000 psychologists and 3,000 social workers for the whole of the country and only 1,022 college seats for mental health professionals are set aside in India. [Source: World Mental Health Day: India’s Mental Health Crisis In Numbers]

Can the World of Work Make a Difference?

Yes it can.

Coming away from the scary numbers, let’s talk about how the world of work can make a positive difference to the existing scenario.

Why should the world of work make a difference?

Because about 8-10 hours out of 24 hours of our day is spent at work.

How can the work-space make a difference to our mental health awareness?

1. First things first, by acknowledging the importance of mental health and mental health awareness.

This made news recently, when an employee wrote to her CEO informing that she would be taking some time off, so she can come back a ‘100%’. The CEO’s response is up here for all of us to see.

Acknowledging that taking care of your mental health is important is the first step towards creating awareness. Being fit mentally is just as important as being fit physically to be at your productive best. However, it is impossible to bring about change without acknowledgment of the issue.

2. Tackling the associated Stigma

The social stigma attached to mental health comes in the way of even acknowledging mental health issues and dialogues. This continues to be one of the main road blocks towards addressing mental health concerns. Along with dealing with the mental health concerns, the individual is also at the receiving end of a great deal of social prejudice and discrimination. One way work spaces can help tackle this is by holding frequent workshops, webinars, or even focused conversations and dialogues on mental health. It is because of the social stigma attached that more often than not, mental health concerns are internalized.  Addressing them by holding sustained conversations about them is the only to bust the stigma.

3. Making resources available

By creating a work environment where the employees have access to basic mental health resources, should they need it, is a great way of showing support for mental health concerns. When we say resources, we mean very simple, basic resources, which in fact should become a norm. For example, a counselor at a designated desk. If the organisation cannot afford a full-time counselor, you could bring someone on board for 2 or 3 days a week and he/ she could be made available on appointment. Similarly, other easy ways are by creating a resource pool of short  video clips or documents on mental health which could be circulated amongst the employees on email.

Spending some time on creating a ‘Mental Health Directory’, can also be hugely beneficial, not just for your organisation, but for anyone who has access to this directory. Recently, students from the Azim Premji University in Bangalore, created a Mental Health Directory for the city of Bangalore, which has valuable information regarding all available mental resources in the city. Awareness centers, recreational  centers, wellness centers, counselors, psychiatrists, alternative care services, rehabilitation centers are some of the many resources which have been documented within this directory.

4. Small changes to the work-space design can make big differences

When we say changes to work space design, we do not mean big, expensive changes. We mean a basic mindfulness check of your work space.

While companies invest in many strategies to support the physical health of employees, from flu vaccinations to filtered air systems, ignoring employees’ mental health means businesses risk losing any gains they make in physical health support. Depression, stress, substance abuse, financial distress, work-life balance, ADHD, and, yes, even workplace bullying are all issues with which workers are dealing and that have a large drain on productivity. – Jennifer Stukenberg, How to design workspaces that support employee mental health.

Being mindful in how the work-space is designed plays a huge role in enhancing the productivity of your employees, by supporting their mental health. The most basic checklist is as follows –

  • Well lit and ventilated work space.
  • Away from noise and distraction.
  • Ensuring cohesiveness by positioning the employees in such a way that they can see each other and feel connected, instead of feeling isolated.
  • Some green around – there are plenty of options for indoor plants!

5. Building Empathy into the Organizational Culture

How sustainable all the above listed options are, is entirely dependent on the larger culture of the organisation. Cultivating ’empathy’ as a culture within the organisation is the key to understanding mental health concerns.

Empathy is not sympathy or pity. Empathy is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings from their perspective. It’s about putting yourself authentically in someone else’s shoes. Asking questions from their point of view and not yours, pausing, listening and thinking about the opportunities / issues from that person’s position. Why Every Business Needs a Culture of Empathy

Without the concept of empathy, understanding mental health concerns, or working towards mental health awareness will remain a distant dream. Also, the culture of empathy really starts at the top. It is the vision of the organisation, and the outlook of those on the top to fulfill the vision which makes all the difference.

We leave you with this thought provoking TedTalk by renowned mental health practitioner, Vikram Patel, on Mental Health for All by Involving All. In his talk, Patel argues why mental health shouldn’t just be a privilege of the first world, as it is today, and should be accessible to all. He goes beyond just posing problems by proposing low cost and effective solutions to address these issues.

Are you ready to take on, what may be called as your ‘basic responsibility’ to make mental health accessible for your employees?