Destigmatizing Mental Health for India Inc; Creating A Holistic Workplace For All

Mental health continues to be the elephant in the room in the majority of corporate companies in India. With the World Health Organization citing that depression and anxiety (two of the most prominent mental health issues) cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity, there’s no doubt that India Inc. needs to be more concerned about the mental health of employees.

“It makes sense for companies to nurture employees’ mental health, not simply from an ethical perspective, but also from an economic point of view. The benefits to the employee cannot, of course, be quantified in economic terms, but are potentially life-saving. In fact, mental health is just as important a factor for productivity as physical health,” says Mohita Uchil, Head of HR , uKnowva.

Enabling and improving the mental health of employees is slowly emerging as a top workplace wellbeing priority. However, more than 75 percent of employees acknowledge the presence of stigma around mental health in their workplaces. Priority should be given to removing stigma. “Managers need to acknowledge that stigma around mental health can lead to poor employee wellbeing outcomes such as low productivity and a higher churn. Stress, anxiety, and depression have the largest impact on an individual’s wellbeing, and performance. Even in organizations that offer mental health services or counsellor help, very few people avail of these services, largely due to the taboo associated with mental health issues, and lack of trust in assurance of privacy,” says Prakriti Poddar ,Global Head Mental Health and Wellbeing, RoundGlass.

Employees often worry that seeking help for mental health can jeopardise their career growth. The taboo attached to mental health issues often forces people to shove mental health issues under the carpet. That’s why it is important to create an environment of trust within the organization.

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“Destigmatizing conversations surrounding mental health and creating open lines of communication are critical. Any organisation seeking to create a
nurturing and conducive work environment needs to take these issues seriously and develop policies around them,” adds Uchil.

 Companies need to create an environment that normalizes open conversations around mental health issues. It should start at the top, with the leadership team taking the first step in being transparent and honest about their own struggles. If the leaders don’t model this behavior, employees will likely hide any issues of their own in an effort to mimic their superiors.

Approach to Promoting the Mental Health and Well-Being of Employees

Building and maintaining a workplace culture that promotes health and well-being is the first step towards achieving health in the workplace. “The key elements that define an organization’s work culture include strong and mutually satisfying relationships with managers and coworkers, open communication, employee participation, levels of responsibility, authority, and decision-making, an ideal workload, flexible working hours, and opportunities for career advancement. Every level of management, from leaders to line managers, must participate in the development of a positive corporate culture,” says Dr. RC Jiloha, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Paras Hospital Gurugram.

Poddar shares some simple ways to remove the stigma around mental health in the workplace:

  1. Cultivate a culture of acceptance and motivate leaders/managers to talk about their mental health struggles. This will inspire the trust of employees to open up about their mental health issues and fight stigma.
  2. Assure the privacy of employees’ health information. This will motivate them to come forward and seek help.
  3. Set an intention to use sensitive and responsible language around mental wellbeing.
  4. Train managers to be empathetic and foster meaningful relationships with employees.
  5. Adopt a wholistic approach to employee wellbeing. All aspects of an employee’s wellbeing – be it physical, mental, emotional, social or community – need to be enabled and enhanced for him/her to thrive.
  6. Empower managers with the knowledge to identify common warning signs of mental illness.
  7. A positive, consistent work culture that is well-defined and blends wellbeing into its fabric can help destigmatize mental health issues at the workplace and help create a happy workforce.

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