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Stigma barring Indian workers from seeking mental health care

Published On : 12 Oct 2017

New Delhi, (IANS) Chronic stress stemming from the workplace can lead to mental health disorders, but they often stay untreated because of the social stigma attached to it, causing damage to an individual's health and career, health experts have warned.

The National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 revealed that nearly 15 per cent of Indian adults need active intervention for one or more mental health issues and one in 20 Indians suffers from depression.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines workplace stress as "the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope".

The ever increasing work pressures can affect an individual's body, thoughts and feelings, as well as behaviour and cause headache, fatigue, change in sex drive, sleep problems, anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, overeating or under-eating, outbursts of anger, drug or alcohol abuse and social withdrawal, among others.

These changes, however, often go unrecognised and many people also do not approach treatment for fear of discrimination and losing job or status in the society.

"The stigma attached to having a psychiatric disorder is such that employees may be reluctant to seek treatment out of fear that they might jeopardise their jobs," Bhagwat Rajput, Consultant Psychiatrist at Venkateshwar Hospital in New Delhi, told IANS.

As per a study conducted across 35 countries, including India, two-thirds of employees who suffered depression either faced discrimination at work or while applying for jobs. The findings were published in the journal BMJ Open in 2016.

These perceived and anticipated discrimination can be categorised as the major causes for people suffering silently at workplaces and being hesitant to seek proper care and counselling, the experts said.

According to 2016 data from Optum, a health services company, 46 per cent of the workforce in India suffers from some or the other form of stress.

"Our workplace often becomes the source of a lot of pressure and workload. An excessive amount of stress can lead to limitations in the individual's personal, social and occupational functioning," said Samir Parikh, Director of Department of Mental health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Hospital in Gurugram.

Further, stress that is left unchecked for a long time can also contribute to other health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, eating disorders as well as sexual dysfunction.

"Chronic stress, if not managed effectively, can in the long run have major detrimental impact on the individuals' physical as well as psychological well-being, as it could increase their vulnerability to not just mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, but also to physical health," Parikh said.

Adequate treatment, on the other hand, can alleviate symptoms for the employee and improve job performance.

Stress is caused by poor work organisation, poor work design (for example, lack of control over work processes), poor management, unsatisfactory working conditions, and lack of support from colleagues and supervisors.

Thus, "organisations need to be made aware about the basic reasons behind the mental health issue among employees. They need to encourage staff to maintain a good work-life balance and should take active measures to ensure that the workplace is a safe and secure place for all employees", Pallab Maulik, Deputy Director and Head of Research at the George Institute for Global Health India, New Delhi, told IANS.

Moreover, "in case an employee is suffering from certain mental health issues, the organisation should support and encourage them to seek appropriate mental health care and counselling", Maulik said.

Employers should create a healthy work environment with regular interventions like promoting physical activity, cognitive behaviour therapy and stress management which can have positive impact in mitigating mental health problems among the employees, the experts suggested.

Employees, on the other hand, should create a work-life balance and a support systems at work, opt for a disciplined and healthy lifestyle, get adequate sleep, avoid alcohol and drugs, and engage in regular physical exercise, which would help them stay fit physically as well as mentally.

Prioritising the work, and being realistic and, most importantly, taking out time for yourself is necessary, Parikh said.




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