Apart from battling the coronavirus pandemic, India through the lockdown has also seen an increased number of mental health issues getting reported. Zirak Marker, Senior Psychiatrist and Advisor at Aditya Birla Education Trust's mental health awareness foundation, Mpower, says that although India Inc is more aware than earlier about mental health and well-being, it still has a long way to go. "Companies are still unaware of the symptoms of mental health. They are not realising that high-functioning, motivated individuals also need mental health intervention. Being cooped inside for months together is not normal and this has led to mental health issues among highly motivated individuals too."
Though companies are beginning to reinstate original salaries and there are green shoots in the job market too, mental health issues continue to loom large. "The kind of mental health issues corporate sector employees suffer are mental fatigue because of lack of work-life balance, insecurity and anxiety due to job losses or pay cuts. The lockdown has impacted the mental health of employees due to sudden increase in work because they also have to balance housework with office work, lack of physical activity, many employees struggle with technology adoption leading to frustration. There is growth in anxiety about the future because of insecurity of jobs in the current economic scenario. Being cooped up in the house with other people may make it difficult to find a quiet space to work, no social interaction with colleagues, balancing work with house work - all would affect their mental health," says Dilshad Khurana, Head Counselor, Mpower Helpline. The helpline in the past few months has received 62,800 calls, 72 per cent being male and 28 per cent female. "Most of our callers are between 26-40 years of age," Khurana further adds.
Fear of contracting COVID-19 and career insecurity are major causes of anxiety. Job losses, loneliness and grief due to a family member succumbing to COVID-19 have also led to increased cases of depression. Marker says that on an average he gets five new cases of depression every week in the past 3-4 months. "I recently saw a client who enjoyed playing tennis and socialising. He has been working from home for the past seven months and told me that he has developed disinterest towards work, he complained of constant backache and a feeling of burn-out. He also loved watching content on Netflix, but he now says that he doesn't feel like doing so anymore. Feeling of hopelessness and lack of interest in everything are early symptoms of depression." Marker says that organisations need to take action as soon as they see their otherwise high-performing employees showing slowing down signs in decision-making or are unable to meet deadlines.
Though the Mpower helpline got around 62,800 calls from people admitting that they are feeling anxious or depressed, Marker believes that the number of mental health related issues would be far higher. There is a huge stigma attached to mental health in India. "Organisations across the country have to pull up their socks when it comes to investing on the mental well-being of their employees. Instead of using Zoom or other platforms for business meetings, organisations should also make use of them to talk to their employees and have casual meet-ups," he advises.