Mental health issues have been a systemic social problem that has been on the rise globally, amplified further by the onset of COVID-19. While the pandemic peaked and waned, the global mental health crisis remained at large. According to a recent survey by a consulting major, mental health issues amongst the workforce in India cost employers nearly USD 14 bn a year; the WHO (World Health Organisation) indicates that nearly 15 per cent of the world’s mental health burden can be ascribed to India. 

India’s corporate sector is facing a mental health crisis which demands immediate, proactive interventions – but before that, it is imperative to understand what some critical mental health-related challenges faced by the Indian workforce are, and what are the steps that can be taken to mitigate the crisis. 

High Levels of Stress: Accentuated by the pandemic, and the challenges and uncertainties it posed, increased stress levels continue to be the biggest driver of mental health issues for corporate India. A trigger for a varied range of mental and physical health problems, high-stress owing to work-related factors like work-from-home (WFH), then return-to-office and everything in between, in addition to job-related pressures is causing an all-time high in the stress levels of employees across the board. 

Lack of Work-life Balance: A pertinent conversation, already being discussed in India Inc., the lack of work-life balance continues to be an overriding trigger for mental health issues amongst the workforce in India. Further heightened by the pandemic, the sudden transition to WFH, the consequent lack of work-life balance coupled with the pressure of workload and deadlines seems to be aggravating the mental health problems even more amongst employees. It is helpful to note that the blended or hybrid working models seem to be addressing the issue to an extent, but much ground remains to be covered. 

Depression, Anxiety & Burnout: Shocking as it may seem, but nearly four out 10 employees working in corporate India exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety and burnout. Tiggered to a great extent by the toxic work culture, other drivers of these mental health issues comprise pandemic-induced isolation, challenges, and uncertainties regarding job stability and more. These are coupled with workplace-related common triggers that employees must face in their everyday lives, leading them towards depression, anxiety, and burnout.  

Other Issues: Apart from the above-listed key mental health issues faced by the workforce, there are other prevalent mental health problems such as lack of concentration, changes in behaviour including manic behaviours, plummeting energy levels, nervous attitude, decreased patience levels, etc., There are also physical symptoms like headaches, backaches, neckaches, mood swings, anxiety attacks, etc. which are often manifestations of deeper psychological issues. 

Interventions to manage the mental health crisis at the workplace

Take Time Out to Rejuvenate & Recharge: Managing mental well-being by leveraging positive coping mechanisms like exercising, pursuing interests outside work, socialising, practising meditation and allocating personal time for oneself to recharge and rejuvenate. 

Establish Boundaries: In today’s hyperconnected world, it is exceedingly difficult to establish boundaries, especially when it comes to ‘being available 24 hours’ to solve work crises. This constant pressure to be available all the time accentuates stress and results in a skewed work-life balance. Employees must consciously try to establish boundaries such as not checking work-related emails after work, avoiding answering work calls at home, etc, to reduce work-life conflict.

Prioritise Health: It is critical to manage one’s physical health and well-being along with mental fitness. Employees must develop positive, life-affirming habits like practicing meditation daily and physical exercise to relieve any stress or anxiety. Regular health check-ups and ensuring that the employees take paid time off to spend at leisure with friends and family or even by oneself may go a long way in ensuring mental and physical health and well-being at the workplace. 

Take Breaks: It is helpful to take short breaks between work, be it at home or office. It is recommended to take at least 15 minutes of break between 70–95 minutes of work stretches. Taking these short breaks helps one in improving focus, reducing stress, keeping one engaged and making work feel more enjoyable in general.

Seek Support: If an employee is feeling excessive work-related stress, or symptoms of burnout, anxiety, or depression, it is extremely critical to seek support – whether from family or friends or even the supervisor or HR partners at work. Proactive support from supervisors regarding the workload, time management, managing stressors, etc can prove to be timely and helpful. One can also reach out to HR partners for counselling, referrals for professional mental health help as well as avail other stress management and employee assistance programmes. The key is to seek support well in time and know that there is nothing more important than one’s own mental health and well-being.