In the news: Mental health in India

Corporate efforts in mental health are on the rise, but there’s still far to go
by BethanRees

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While the subject of mental health is sparking conversations and raising awareness around the world, the stigma surrounding the issue is still prevalent in India.

According to Namrata Rana and Utkarsh Majmudar for The Economic Times in April this year, the medical focus in India tends to prioritise disease management and its cure, with mental health “mostly ignored because it has no real physical manifestation”. 

“Misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental health are widespread, leading to exclusion from the healthcare system”, say Rana and Majmudar. They also note that mental health is largely ignored by big Indian companies, despite around 80% of India’s top 200 firms investing in health and education as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments. These firms are mostly deploying their CSR funds “for disease prevention and management only”. 

Those firms “that are already investing in health and education as part of CSR can insist that schools should employ counsellors for students and that hospitals create mental health departments”, suggest Rana and Majmudar.

The article quotes Neerja Birla, founder and chairperson of Mpower, a social enterprise that helps address mental health issues. She says that awareness building and talking to people in need of help is a good starting point, because “many mental health issues are a result of loneliness”. Believing that mental health should be viewed with a sense of urgency, Birla says that technology, while connecting us, can also create “islands of loneliness, anxiety and stress”.

Economic Times article 
Work in progress
An article in the Financial Express highlights the fact that, although India’s Mental Healthcare Act 2017 is “one of the most progressive legislations on mental health globally”, it possesses few resources to help those in need.

The Act provides “for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfil the rights of such persons during delivery of mental healthcare and services and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

Yet, the article points to figures from the World Health Organization that show that India had just 0.3 psychiatrists per 100,000 population in 2014. This compares with 3.49 in Brazil, 1.71 in China and 12.4 in the US. “Psychologists working in mental health were fewer still, with 0.07 per 100,000”.  

The article refers to The Lancet Commission on mental health, published in October 2018, that estimates that costs to the global economy in relation to healthcare and lost productivity exacted by mental illness will reach US$16tn by 2030. According to Financial Express, this will “bring India’s problem into even starker relief”, adding that by 2020 an estimated 20% of the Indian population will be suffering from a form of mental illness.

The article says that thousands of people suffering from mental illness are left without recourse to treatment because of a “sporadic and inadequate” policy response to data showing that India is the “most depressed country in the world”. They are “living under conditions of extreme insecurity, with undernutrition and violations of their human rights”. It calls for the government to make mental health services a key part of universal health coverage.

Financial Express article

How can companies help? Some companies in India are stepping up to their responsibilities by “investing in improving the mental health of their people”, according to Brinda Sarkar and Sreeradha D Basu in an article for the Economic Times. Accenture, a management consulting and professional services firm, and American Express have introduced initiatives to help promote good mental health, they say. 

Accenture has been conducting mental wellness workshops and has an onsite counsellor support programme, where “counsellors visit eight offices across five cities in the country on a fortnightly basis”. Meanwhile, American Express is “actively driving more conversations about workplace mental health” and the firm has a happiness coach, who is a “trained clinical psychologist who conducts stress management and work-life balance sessions”.  

Accenture and American Express are not alone. According to a press release by insurance firm Willis Towers Watson, referencing a study entitled India health and wellbeing study, around 80% of organisations in the country took at least one action towards improving the mental health of their employees last year. Sudesh Shetty, head of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, adds: “Stress has a direct link to workplace performance and productivity. While some employers in India have already taken steps to develop a stress or mental health strategy, more focused effort is required to identify the specific reasons of stress and design interventions aimed at addressing them and improving the emotional and mental health of employees. Almost 60% companies do not use data/matrix to measure the stress of the workforce and the leading causes, and that surely is an area of improvement.”

Economic Times article

While efforts to push mental health higher up the corporate agenda are being taken by some in the Indian business community, there is clearly still a long way to go. So how can more businesses encourage mental health wellbeing and help end the stigma? Leave your comments below. 

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Published: 26 Apr 2019
  • News
  • The Review
  • India
  • mental health

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