Talking about Mental Illness at the Workplace

During adulthood work-life plays a critical role, fulfilling many of the most basic needs such as, a means to earn a living - providing food, financial security and shelter, a place to form interpersonal relationships and develop a sense of belonging and efficacy. Most adults also spend a majority of their time at work, which is why it has an impact on their mental and physical health. 

Research has shown that among corporate employees 80% showed symptoms of anxiety related disorders and 55% showed signs of depressive disorders. Moreover, a study found that Indians spend an average of 52 hours per week at work. This was the highest when compared to 25 other countries. Additionally, 46% of the Indian workforce is also experiencing stress related issues. Persistent stress can take a huge toll on one’s health and well-being. In some people, stress can manifest as physical symptoms of fatigue, lowered immune systems, insomnia and other cognitive issues.

In India there is a significant stigma associated with mental illness. This is a major barrier preventing people from speaking openly about their struggles and getting the required support they need. Stigma stems from a lack of understanding about the nature of mental illness and excludes all who do not fit into what is deemed proper. 

This may intimidate or prevent you from speaking to your boss about your mental illness but it is important that the concerns and issues you have are recognised and acknowledged. Given the stigma, before approaching a manager or boss, you should consider why you are disclosing this information and what support is needed from the organisation. By having this discussion, you are keeping the management informed about your needs and are attempting to make changes to your environment that will benefit health and productivity. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable speaking to a manager or boss directly, talking to someone in the Human Resource department is a good start.

The implementation of the Mental Health Care Act 2017, is an active effort to provide treatment for mental illness, while ensuring that those impacted are not discriminated against by the Government or any other institutions. This being said, you are not under any obligation to disclose this information with managers or co-workers. This matter is private and should be shared only with those you are comfortable with.

Although the above legislation is intended to protect this marginalised group the current work environment is not equipped to handle these sensitive situations. Disclosing your mental illness may not be received with open-mindedness or comradery. Indian corporates are not well prepared or trained to handle these situations and there is a chance that you may not receive the support you require. 

By starting this discussion in the workplace, you are empowering others who may also be struggling and provide hope that change can be affected. Starting an open dialogue about mental health is also an opportunity to reduce surrounding stigma and create a safe and inclusive working environment for all.

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