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BT MindRush 2021: Mental health biggest contributor to productivity loss, says Harvard Professor

Mohammad Haaris Beg     January 22, 2021

Vikram Patel, the Pershing Square Professor of Global Health in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, stated on Friday that mental health problems are the single most important contributor towards loss in workforce productivity. Patel was delivering the keynote address on 'Managing Mental Stress and Anxiety at the Workplace' at Business Today MindRush 2021.

Patel, during his address, explained what corporates can do and what they should be doing to combat mental health-related problems at the workplace. He gave his own definition of mental health. He said, "It is a state of well being in which the individual realises that his or her own abilities can cope with the normal stresses of everyday life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make meaningful and purposeful contributions to his or her own community." He added that mental health is far more than just mental illness or the absence of mental illness.

Patel added that mental health problems are extremely common in India. "The National Mental Health Survey of India reported that roughly about 10% of all adults in India were suffering from or experiencing clinically significant mental health problems at the time of the survey". He explained that this pattern is likely to be experienced in the Indian workforce as well. Mental health-related problems also contribute significantly towards workplace absenteeism, according to Patel.

Patel explained that establishing workplace policies is crucial for not only promotion of mental health but also for enabling recovery from issues. He added that businesses must treat mental health issues with the same degree of importance as physical health issues.

"We need to recognise that there are hierarchies in the workplace and that these hierarchies disproportionately affect people at different levels in terms of risks to mental health", Patel said. He added that a workforce mental health program must therefore recognise the different kinds of work-related stresses that people will experience at various periods. Patel explained that inclusiveness and confidentiality are also crucial for dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

Patel stated that another crucial aspect of addressing mental health concerns is 'dignity'. "We must respect every individual equally regardless of whether or not they have a mental health condition," added Patel. He suggested that any mental health programme that businesses have must be constantly evaluated to make sure that it is achieving its objective. He concluded that any mental health initiative must be based on evidence and backed by science.

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