The emotional well-being paradox: are we talking about this?

The data on the impact of emotional ill-health on the workplace is damning: 7% of the workforce faces symptoms of depression every year. This is just one of many disorders that can afflict us, the other significant ones being bipolar disorder, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, anger, and bipolar disorder. Data from Harvard Medical Review puts number of days lost owing to depression as 27 days per person per year. This includes number of years lost owing to physical days off and productivity loss owing to what is being termed “presenteeism” (this is when the person is physically present in the office but is producing little or no work). In countries like the US, only about 52% of people suffering from these issues seek treatment. In India, that number is a small fraction – less than 5%, to hazard a guess.

The stigma of being diagnosed with a mental health issue, and the embarrassment to admit that one has required help from a psychologist, keeps people from going to a qualified professional. It is also a grey area, as far as manager/ leadership sensitivity goes. Most organisations will have managers who won’t know how to react, if a team member asks to be given leave because they are feeling clinically depressed. The tendency would be to try and cheer them up, or give them motivational advice.

Another blanket area of concern is stress: this can be caused by anything. Overwork, confidence issues, skills mismatch, interpersonal issues, bullying, lack of clarity are just some of the obvious, but in no way exhaustive list of potential causative factors.

With 25% of the workplace routinely reporting that they feel stressed at work, many initiatives are ongoing, to alleviate the relatively easier to solve issues. There is a drive towards positive workplaces; there are policies in place to protect employee interests; organisations are also pushing their workforce to experience the transformative power of gratitude. These are good efforts, however, they are not composite.

Stress management efforts are relatively smaller wins. Data is that, worldwide, at least 54% of urban professionals will experience a mental illness (anxiety and depression being the big ones) at some point in their life, and less than half of that population will actually seek help. Given this reality, there is a lot to be done. Training being given to leaders to identify when a situation might need recommendation for professional help, and sensitivity training, so they don’t end up trivializing the issue, is a good starting point. Initiatives like the employee wellness services, which provide trained counselors available on call or available for a face to face consultation also adds to the infrastructure. Having emotional health practitioners helps the workforce have a neutral person to talk to. If the situation needs further escalation, the psychotherapist or counsellor can make a further recommendation to a psychiatrist, for medicine based treatment.

Dialogue with experts in the field will give us a good idea about what should be corporate India’s next move to ensure the emotional safety and psychological well-being of their workforce. Join the discussion at Corporate Health Summit.

Cited: Harvard Medical School article.


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