Prioritising mental health at workplace

A popular lyric of Shahryar in Hindi film Gaman of 1978, “Is shahar mein har shakhs pareshan kyon hai” ( why everyone in this city is so restless) poignantly brings out the magnitude of unease marring the well-being of the urban population.

Down the years, people have become more touchy and fidgety bespeaking of growing mental illness. Think of the grievous setback writ large on the face of a youngster having lost or misplaced his mobile phone, till its replacement.

On the marital front, a voluntary organisation estimates that a third of all marriages solemnised in Delhi are dissolved within six months! About 90% of those aged 10–29 years sleep with their phones and most of us suffer from the Phantom Vibration Syndrome, that is the feeling that one’s phone is ringing or vibrating when it’s actually not.

The triggers disquieting the brain are several, many of them attributable to digital devices that attune their users to instant outcomes — such as the dysfunction of a TV remote which changing channels or the failure of internet connectivity, both leading to utmost frustration.

A natural corollary to the lowered patience levels is witnessed in increased cases of conflicts, tensions, divorces, animosities and disputes. Around a fourth of the world’s population is in the grip of mental disorders of varying degrees and only a few have physiological origin requiring medical intervention.

The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2020, mental depression will be the largest cause of disability worldwide overriding cardiovascular diseases. This year’s theme on World Mental Health Day (October 10) was Mental Health in the Workplace.

Reports that show half the workforce in India being under stress, about 30% of them living with addictions and marital discord, 20% suffering from depression, 36% of techies in Bengaluru showing signs of psychiatric disorder according to a NIMHANS study, and around 400 Indian soldiers committing suicide in the last three and half years, call for urgent corrective measures.

Cases of mental illness at workplaces continue to rise, and many of them relate to women who are increasingly joining work force. The illnesses relate to excessive work pressure, job insecurity, lack of time to discharge essential family obligations, sexual harassment, and compliance with unlawful informal orders from bosses.

In a recent survey of 3,000 employees undertaken by the UK-based charity Business in the Community, 60% confessed to have experienced mental health issues like facing demotion, disciplinary action or even dismissal at workplaces.

Further, the Police Federation of Devon & Cornwall, the fifth largest province in England, admitted to police officers becoming mentally ill because of increased workload and lone working shifts and taking more sick leave, as per a recent BBC release, adding that half of all officers are subjected to clinical diagnosis for depression and anxiety.

In India, we hear of bank personnel committing suicide after disbursing loans against their conscience due to pressure. In 2016-17, complaints of sexual harassment increased by about 12% as reported by the BSE’s top 100 listed companies.

It gets worse; a survey of 6,047 respondents by the Indian Bar Association this year revealed that 70% women did not report sexual harassment by superiors for fear of retaliation. It is well known that despite the presence of sexual harassment prevention committees, complainants often fail to get addressed because the accused is a high-performer. Verbal, physical or digital abuses and being otherwise bullied at workplace are major irritants to employees.

Some relief, however, can be expected from the “Sexual Harassment electronic-Box (SHe-Box)” system installed in central government offices in New Delhi for registering complaints, which can also be expanded to cover private workplaces. Anguish and torture can affect the brain causing long-term psychological scars; and people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims than perpetrators of crimes. So, the sooner the issue is addressed, the better the results.

Succour can be provided to the mentally ill by understanding that human capacities are wondrous, that it is never too late and possibilities for change exist even when one thinks there are none. As Darwin P Kinglsley said: “You have powers you never dreamed of. You can do things you never thought you could do. There are no limitations to what you can do except limitations of your own mind.”

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