Mental Health at the Workplace – A call to action to make sure we “show up” wherever we go.

Vidyarth Venkateswaran | March 13, 2020

Vidyarth Venkateswaran

The world focused on a complex, yet socially hyper-relevant subject in “Suicide Prevention” on World Mental Health Day last month. As with any global social issue today, organizations such as WHO or WEF showcased their support in addressing it through efforts centered around awareness creation as well as well-thought-out programs that are implementable.

For the uninitiated – let’s look at some broad numbers to start with.

  • As per the WHO, suicide takes a life every 40 seconds, making it the principal cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-nine years old.
  • An estimated 275 million people suffer from anxiety disorders and depression today. That’s around 4% of the global population. Around 62% of those suffering from anxiety are female (170 million), compared with 105 million male sufferers.
  • An estimated 26% of Americans aged 18 and older – about 1 in 4 adults – suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year.
  • Approximately 9.5% of American adults aged 18 and over, will suffer from a depressive illness (major depression, bipolar disorder, or dysthymia) each year.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, between 76% and 85% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment for their disorder. In high-income countries, between 35% and 50% of people with mental disorders are in the same situation.

While one might be forgiven if these issues do not “show up” at the workplace or do not negatively impact business and productivity, a look under the carpet reveals even more startling numbers:

  • A recent study revealed that 48% of British workers have experienced a mental health problem in their current job.
  • In India, nearly 42.5% of employees in the private sector suffer from depression or anxiety disorder, per the results of a study conducted by Assocham.
  • Per the National Mental Health Survey of India (2015-16), nearly 15% of Indian adults need active interventions for one or more mental health issues.
  • The UK loses an estimated 70 million man-days of effort due to conditions related to poor mental health – the resultant cost being in the range of £100 billion. On the flip side, the costs from ‘Presentism’ are double that number.

Not all is gloom and doom though. Many studies have shown that companies of all shapes and sizes increasingly understand the importance of good mental health. Today’s leaders are aware of the negative impact that poor mental health has on business and productivity. Firms are experimenting with and implementing proactive practices such as employee friendly policies to manage working hours, Fun@ Work programs, Employee Assistance programs etc. to promote mental well-being in their employees.

The aim here is not to establish that this subject is important and needs attention. It is however – a call to action. It is an attempt at emphasizing that while the initiatives at a strategic level are perhaps the norm, there is an increasing need for the effort to become even more individualized at the grass roots. Safeguarding staff well-being, addressing problems before they become severe, enabling those suffering with counseling when issues do emerge, need more headspace in discussions. To put things in perspective, here are some interesting practices that came to light as part of a recent study:

  • Leaders were encouraged to conduct a formal / informal review of employee mental health metrics along with quarterly financial results
  • Mental Health and Awareness sessions/events are being conducted periodically
  • Accountability is being established and Mental Health agenda is being driven through Wellness officers at senior leadership levels across all teams
  • Improving mental well-being as a driver to improving business productivity is taking an increasingly important role
  • Line Managers are being trained to enhance mental well-being in their teams.
  • Companies are beginning to include Mental Wellness under “Return to Work” programs and other benefits packages
  • Enabling anonymous communication channels to encourage open communication and initiatives that work towards reducing the taboo that accompanies poor mental health
  • Enforcing practices through an Employee Wellness policy
  • Introducing “Power Down” hours where employees are encouraged to step away from their laptops and engage in non-work related interactions with their colleagues

Regarded as one of the greatest artists of her generation, Glenn Close said it with grace – “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” It is time, that asprofessionals and leaders, we embrace what it means to drive growth for our clients and our business and do it while also embracing ‘being human’.

References: suicide mental-disorders

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