Mental health in workplace : A distant reality

In the words of mama indigo-“The best thing you could do is master the chaos in you. You are not thrown into the fire; you are the fire.” The following quote would have remained only inspirational until a few years back. It is only now that I have grown up knowing that things aren’t perfect. The journey to try and get as close to what matters and is beautiful.

I am constantly reminded of a talented aunt who used to work in the advertising section of an affluent leading media house. And how her over-friendly attitude, talkative spells, loud and colorful dressing sense, her attention to detail would give her the best possible interviews with influential stars of the society. She was the star of her own making and situations were working around for her to get her to the top of her career.

However, things turned a little different when one-day aunt entered the office with a blatant look on her face. She took to the corner of her chair, took some time to open up her schedule and seemed reluctant to conduct any interviews. It was disbelieving and strange for her colleagues to see this more-than-vibrant lady go through this struggle of spending her day. It could be momentary, is what they thought. However, when the communication did not improve and responses were vague, grooming wasn’t taken care of and no amount of interest seemed to be good enough, it caught the attention of her colleagues. The usual suggestion followed- “…could be weakness and fatigue, see a physician.”

The following day was different, the traffic signal messing up the lights, the little child walking on the right instead of left, the roadside vendor not being able to calculate the proper amount of change and so on! Among all this, Aunt had made a small change too- instead of seeing a general health physician, she went to a mental health specialist. Of course, she felt different and it had nothing to do with the street food she had, with the lack of sleep or feverish attitude of her mother. The trouble was somewhere else and she needed to figure out!

The next morning was a usual day in office except for the fact that all expected my chirpy aunt to be back at work and raise the TRP’s with her interviews higher than ever. My aunt was greeted with more than usual enthusiasm and she proceeded straight to her team leader. On reaching, she expressed that she needed to speak with him and that it should remain confidential for now. The conversation started, continued, paused on various places, emoted different reactions from the man. Eventually, the meet came to a halt and the look of it was not amicable. She rushed out of the cabin crying and grabbed her stuff off the table. That was the last anyone ever saw of her at work, a place that defined her love and identity for so long.

So, what do you think happened?

The end of this incident is exactly the beginning of a very crucial topic today – Are we considering the mental health of the staff and employees at the workplace?

We all know about ethics and moral virtues that makes one a good and trusted worker of the community. Other than reading the terms of altruism, honesty, truth, justice, transparency, compassion, empathy and love we should ask ourselves how much we practice them regularly at our workplace.

As a learner, teacher, colleague, therapist, boss, team leader we all are constantly at fault. Our need for a perfect environment and our unrealistic expectations of co-workers and staff make us so blinded that we often forget to consider a human being first. Our work is just a part of life and just as well life gives all of us some challenges for the bigger part. Therefore, why equate or reason of how the other part should not influence work. Why can’t we be open to the reality of the good things are helping us function like any other individual.

So, then the question arises, “Is mental illness or a discomfort in the mind so inferior as to not deserve a friendly, healthy and compassionate work environment?”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with mental impairments. Since mental illness already hinders the individuals process of accomplishing goals at a steady pace in life, this act helps them remain entitled to some of the basic laws. However, in India, mental health is not given a certain dignity and seriousness it ought to get. With changing scenarios and people coming up to say that if they do not speak about this struggle it will become an identity. The commoner realizes that it is okay to feel worried, anxious, upset, angry, aggressive and to consult the specialists when it is been hampering our functioning as an individual.

Now coming to the workplace scenario, let’s see what happened! When aunt disclosed about the mood disorder that she was going through, it wasn’t very well received. It came with weird queries. Was she agitated? Would she behave well in an interview?  Was she dangerous on her worst daysWere still the colleagues comfortable cracking jokes about ‘mad people’ around her. She stomped out because she was powerful. Not because she wasn’t scared but because she went on so strongly despite the fear.

And of course she knew- what she had given to her work place in spite of having the mental illness, many people without any imbalance would never be able to. It was and is always about the perspective.

She is a Graduate student at Manipal University. Majoring in Occupational therapy in Mental Health. She loves reading, travelling and food, believes in finding positive, interesting stories in every individual.