Five of the ten leading causes of disability across the world are mental health problems. And these problems prevail across socio-economic boundaries, genders, ages and nationalities. International studies about mental health in the workplace are increasingly telling a similar story of stress, depression and alcohol abuse, to name a few. Where reported, absenteeism and sick leave days often find their root in mental health concerns.
The numbers are stark and calls for urgent attention. Studies done in the UK, the EU and the US report that 15-30% of the working population will deal with some kind of mental health problem during their working life.
In India, the bigger picture can be hard to quantify, given the lack of data. Mental health remains shrouded in stigma, which stifles conversation and a much needed public dialogue and exploration into the mental wellbeing of a rapidly growing population. A recent report estimated that 50 million Indians are suffering from mental health disorders, most of whom are either undiagnosed or not able to find the help they need. More specifically, a report in the Lancet recently suggested that by the year 2025, 38.1 million years of healthy life in India will be lost to mental illness.
A Price for Professionalism
The age old adage “health is wealth” has unfortunately been limited to physical health for too long.
Needless to say, mental health impacts productivity in numerous ways: reduced motivation and the ability to manage stress and anxiety, insomnia, increased use of alcohol and drugs, psychosomatic complaints and outright absenteeism. Researchers looking to understand the impact of 25 chronic mental and physical health conditions have found that depression and anxiety rank among the top five most costly conditions that companies deal with. There is enough evidence that the indirect cost of lack of mental wellbeing, in the form of lost productivity, outstrips any direct spending on paid out health benefits.
The need is dire in India: a key advantage for the Indian economy is the anticipated demographic dividend; the unprecedented number of young people that are to join the workforce in the coming decades. A healthy workforce, physically and mentally, is critical for this pay off to happen. Currently, in the age group of 18-35, the third leading cause of death is suicide. In urban metros in India, four out ten professionals who were surveyed, suffered from depression or anxiety and, alarmingly, over 50% of these were under the age of 30.
Increasing demands in the workplace, coupled with a competitive work environment and the overarching stigma attached to mental health, mean that employees do not seek help, afraid of implications for their jobs and careers.
This problem is compounded by gaps in treatment, characterised by a shortage of mental health resources: against a standard of 1 psychiatrist, 1.5 clinical psychologists, and 2 psychiatric social workers per 1,00,000 people, a 2002 survey reported formidable deficits in India of 77% for psychiatrists, 97% for clinical psychologists, and 90% for psychiatric social workers.
However, help where sought (and available), bears results. Cost-benefit studies on the treatment have shown that, if treated adequately, there is a lower incidence of job-related accidents, sick days, employee turnover, as well as increased overall work productivity and hours spent at work.
While the roots of mental health concerns can be multifarious and extraneous to the workplace, employers can play an important role in improving health seeking behaviour. Workplaces provide an effective environment for education and awareness building of mental health concerns and also as a place to promote good practices for mental wellbeing. Employers can provide an important link to available mental health services. Recognition and early identification can significantly arrest the progression of a condition and also improve treatment times. A supportive environment also encourages open dialogue amongst employees and helps to remove stigma, establishing a virtuous cycle of treatment, dialogue and positive re-enforcement.
MPower India, an organisation that works towards tackling mental health issues among the youth has started an initiative with the creation of an employee assistance programme that helps organisations build effective strategies and interventions for personal and workplace support, along with providing confidential counselling services.
source: Economic times