hofeza bhinderwala3

Vishal is no stranger to tough conversations: he has worked in many lead projects for his company. So when Vishal started to take antidepressants, he decided to tell his boss. 

Vishal said. “I was going through a very rough patch in my personal life. I was aware that this was causing some change in behaviour in me. So, when I decided to take up counselling, I knew I should inform my supervisor about it. I was worried that she may mis-interpret the reasons for the change in me. I talked about it like it was the most normal thing in the world. And it is!” 

When Vishal goes to work, he is aware that his mental health struggles do not part ways at the door. Vishal brings tremendous talent to his workplace — but he also brings his anxieties. The same is true for high-performing employees everywhere: one in four adults experiences mental illness each year and yet mental health remains a taboo at work.

But not everyone is as aware as Vishal is. In most cases, the impulse is to conceal it. If we’re feeling emotional at work,—we would prefer to hide in the bathroom, or even book a fake meeting if we need alone time during the day. We’re hesitant to ask for what we need — flex time, or a day working from home — until we experience a major life event, like a new baby or the illness of a parent. 

Most employees are fearful of taking a trust fall with their supervisors should they admit having anxiety issues. 

Today, on the World Mental Health Day, we discussed with Dr. Hozefa Bhinderwala, a leading psychiatrist in Mumbai about the changing workplace environment and how it is  impacting mental health of the workforce. 

Re-Link: Tell us a bit about the work you do?

Dr. Bhinderwala: By profession I am a psychiatrist.

I help people who have difficulties with emotional, behavioural and psychological issues and difficulties in managing their relationships or problems with habits.

Re-Link: What do you think are the common mental health issues experienced in Indian workplace?

Dr. Bhinderwala: The common mental health issues experienced are largely anxiety disorders and Depression. The workforce has expanded now. Competition, therefore, in the work pool has definitely increased and that has led to more intense work. 

 Re-Link: In your experience, do you find that more people are experiencing mental health issues now, than say a decade earlier? 

Dr. Bhinderwala: I would say that it’s only in recent times that more people have been accepting of taking help for mental problems. 

So they are coming forward to taking help. Just acceptance that something is wrong and that I can seek help is on the increase and people are willing to fight stigma. This to some extent may make it appear that more peole are having mental health problems now.

Re-Link: In your experience, how open and ready is the corporate workplace to tackle the issues of mental health?

Dr. Bhinderwala: Most Corporates are still not very open to Mental Health Issues.

In my experience those organisations that are open to take up mental health issues are the ones where the chief or the owner or the head of the organisation have themselves experienced mental health issues in either themselves or some loved ones. 

I would go to the extent of saying that as practicing psychiatrists, we get more referrals from doctors who have someone with mental health issues in their own family as they are sensitized to and aware of the challenges of mental health problems.

While some corporates are taking the initiative to do something about mental health issues a very large number of organisations are still ignorant or indifferent to these issues.

Re-Link: How would you urge policy makers within organisations to explore mental health to understand the different needs of men in this area?

Dr. Bhinderwala: What can help is a sensitizing program which creates awareness and informs that it is all right even for males to have depression and to seek help for the same and something the destigmatises mental health issues.

‘It is alright for to have depression and other mental health issues. Having Mental health issues does not mean you are weak in the mind, it just means you have a correctable disorder.’ This message has to go across. 

Re-Link: Terms like ‘mental ill health’ carry connotations that alienate people. How can support services be communicated to workforces in a manner that will resonate with them?

Dr. Bhinderwala: Any stigma that exists did not come up in one day. This got imbibed as the person grew older and came to know about mental health conditions through a lot of hearsay rather than genuine professional people.

If awareness about mental health conditions can be made accessible to the junior college students itself before they join the workplace, there can be a lot of sensitivity and acceptance amongst people at workplaces be they male or female.

Over the last decade or so we have seen sex education being implemented in schools. Something on similar lines has to be done for mental health issues in the teenage population because that is where these mental health issues start shining out. That could do wonders in creating awareness. Essentially I am implying making this as some kind of a subject for which credit points are rewarded, not as an optional subject but mandatory. 

If you learn about mental health issues in your education itself I am sure you will be more sensitive and accepting of mental health issues.

Re-Link: How can a corporate re-design policies for health interventions?

Dr. Bhinderwala: Getting the help of mental health professionals when policies are formed and realising that these are not problems that you wait to happen before you solve them but be proactive in preventing them before they happen is a key to changing policies in organisations. These organisations will be happy to know that the more healthy and mentally its employees are the better their productivity will be.

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