When 47 yrs old COO Encyclopedia Britannica (India), Vineet Whig took his own life, many referred to the suicide note found in his pocket which pointed towards ‘depression’. To the people who worked with him, Vineet was a calm, composed and a zestful person who inspired many around him. To many, his depression remained hidden till the very end until the suicide note was found.
I am taking my own life, no one is responsible. I am unable to cope. I am sorry. I am depressed. I see no way out except for suicide. Yes, I am a coward. I should have faced life.
A successful professional in a high-profile job, Vineet Whig ended his own life by jumping to his death from his 19th floor apartment in Gurgaon. He is not the only one. In the last 5 years, there have been over a 100 cases of well-educated, well-off professionals who ended their life because of issues with themselves. Vineet’s case was just one of the many fatalities of depression in corporate world.
And now the news of Dileep Pendse’s suicide rings aloud the issue of corporate life and its rigors on mental health if its executives. Dileep was the former MD of Tata Finance and is alleged to have been involved in financial controversies for a while now.
The WHO’s estimates show that over 5 crore Indians live with depression. An additional 3 crores are said to be affected by anxiety disorders.
Depression ranks among the top three work problems, following only family crisis and stress. Nearly 42.5% employees in India suffer from depression or general anxiety disorder according to a 2015 ASSOCHAM in a report on World Health Day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has adopted “Depression” as the key theme for World Health Day 2017 linking depression with all other health issues. Coincidentally, the 2015 ASSOCHAM study had also placed depression in corporates ahead of all other illnesses such as Obesity, High Blood Pressure and Diabetes.
Mr. D S Rawat, Secretary General ASSOCHAM said, “Corporate employees have to survive the stiff global competitive environment to save their jobs, adding pressure on their health, leading to silent diseases,”
Almost every industry in corporate India is experiencing a higher level of work related stress. A certain level of stress is unavoidable at workplace but the risk lies in the fact that it can easily slip into becoming a chronic condition or even give rise to suicidal tendencies.
Depression is a common illness of the mind. It affects how we feel, think and behave. Feelings of sadness, general loss of interest etc are some obvious signs. Depression is known to cause a slew of emotional as well as physical problems if not addressed in time.
But what is causing all this depression in our corporate world suddenly? Are companies and their policies to blame? There have been numerous studies where employees have been surveyed for their responses in different sample sizes and some of the common responses are as follows :
1. Too much or too little to do: the feeling of not contributing and having a lack of control.
2. Lack of two-way communication between management and employees.
3. Being unappreciated.
6. Unclear company direction and policies.
7. Vicious office politics disrupting positive behavior and creating mistrust.
10. The treadmill syndrome: too much to do all at once
These surveys have also highlighted facts like nearly 38.5% of all employees sleep less than 6 hours & 57% said that they don’t exercise at all etc. 48% of all employees admitted to feeling fatigue due to general anxiety & 27% admitted that they suffer from regular headache.
Anatomy of Stress
Stress & anxiety per se are completely natural things – they are not necessarily bad. Stress is a completely natural bodily response found in all creatures as a response to a ‘threat situation’. Anxiety is simply a reaction to stress.
Whenever our body/mind perceives a threat of any kind one the first involuntary reactions is the release of beta-endorphins (epinephrine and norepinephrine) hormones which decrease our ability to feel pain and yet let us remain completely functioning physically. Prostaglandin alerts our brain to get ready for action while “antidepressant” serotonin gets us to remain composed through the perceived threat situation. Adrenalin creates a natural high in the face of the perceived threat to help us deal with it while it lasts. Somewhere near our kidneys, the adrenal glands start producing cortisol to observe a balance between all the enzymes being released into our system. And this entire factory draws its energy from the increased levels of glucose being pumped into our blood by our liver.
So that’s what happens when we experience stress and it is completely natural. However the problem we are experiencing today is our minds seem to be perpetually in a ‘threat situation”. This relentless response to stress perception be it at work or commuting to work or at home is what is causing a burn out in people. What was a completely harmless mechanism has started becoming a machinery of morbidity and chaos.
While anxiety and stress at work and interpersonal relationships is often seen as the leading cause of depression, it could also be genetic in some people.
All suicide victims who are like Vineet Whig and Dileep Pendse, resided in one of the metro cities which had ample access to the best medical & mental health facilities and yet did not seek help before deciding to end their lives completely. Though decisions leading to suicide are complex, it is often a mix of professional and personal issues both. Pyschiatrists like Anjali Chhabria have spoken about the CXO level being more prone to corporate pressures in today’s world. “People at the top find it more difficult to admit they have a problem …to relate to someone not as intelligent as them,” says Anjali.
Is there something inherently wrong with the Indian corporate sector? Are Indian employees prone to give in during times of stress and pressure or Indian managers are more inefficient in handling the modern workforce? How can we solve this major psychological crisis which Indian corporate sector is facing right now? Such questions have led many leading companies to come up with various programs aimed at employee welfare. Many employers are also making appropriate treatment available through EAP and through company-sponsored health benefits.
An Asia Pacific study done in 2014 by Towers Watsons showed that Indian employers were ahead of their APAC counterparts in citing “stress” as the number 1 lifestyle risk factor ranking above lack of exercise and obesity.
Many companies are helping employees with depression by providing training on depression and other mental disorders for supervisors, employee assistance, and occupational health personnel. Such efforts are beginning to contribute towards significant reductions in lost time and job-related accidents as well as marked increase in productivity.
More than 80% of people with depression can be treated effectively, generally without missing much time from work or needing costly hospitalization. There is a choice of treatments available, including medications, psychological treatments, or a combination of both. These treatments usually relieve the symptoms of depression in a matter of weeks.
Rachna Awatramani, Founding Director of Insight Counseling Services LLP says, “There is a need of mental health professionals, the awareness is increasing amongst the youngsters and the recent corporate suicides have also forced companies to take mental health issues seriously and provide support to their professional family, now the challenge is for the professionals to provide good service. That’s were Therappo plays an important role as they are providing trained and qualified psychologist to provide the emotional support required 24×7. Emergencies, sorry ’emotional emergencies’, can knock your door anytime”.
How can one help or get involved?
The most frequently asked question on everyone’s mind is “Can it be spotted if someone around you is gradually slipping into depression?” Experts say YES in most cases colleagues and close friends do notice signs and symptoms such as:
- Absenteeism, more than usual sick leave
- Physical ailments
- Poor work performance
- Accident proneness
- Tension and conflict with co-workers
- Harmful substance abuse
- Suicidal Thoughts
It’s important to find help for anxiety, stress, and related disorders in their early stages. With counseling treatment, most people find significant improvement. Several standard approaches have proved effective including counseling or psycho-therapy.
Counseling is also available online where professional mental-health counselling services can be accessed through the Internet, without having to travel to a clinic in person. This is especially helpful for executives who are shy or are intimidated by the idea of speaking face to face with a psychologist. What happens in online counselling is, the client and the counsellor make an appointment where the venue is simply becomes ‘wherever you are’. Both client & counsellor attend the session from their respective places and discuss on live video-chat.
Talk to your company’s management to implement employee benefit programs that are aimed at alleviating work-stress and addressing other mental-health issues amongst the work force. Here are a few things most corporate houses in India can easily start adopting in their regular HR practices.
- Encourage organizational communication between employees to reduce role-ambiguities
- Focus on mental-health and not only physical wellbeing
- Include stress scores as business indicator that is constantly monitored by HR
- Adopt effective technology solutions for stress relief and anonymous counseling
- Facilitate inter-company counseling exchanges
- Create employee support groups to serve as first call to help and to bring assistance to early stage victims.
- Facilitate an environment of mutual respect within the organization to effectively address the traditional stigma against stress, anxiety at the workplace.
- Adopt unbiased and confidential counselling & therapy for all employees.
Sanjay Sarkar, Therappo’s founder is a strong believer in the need for proper counselling initiatives at the corporate workplace. He says, “We don’t need to see surveys or stats to believe it, we can see this all around us. In my 23 years of corporate entrepreneurial life, I am myself able to see that depression in corporates has become a real thing”.
He feels that organizations and government institutions need to extend their employee welfare programs to address mental health first before anything else, “It won’t go away by just looking the other way. Many forward thinking companies have conducted ‘wellness’ drives in their organizations but normally EAP programs concentrate more on things like training, soft skills physical-health and fitness. Its not yet common to find EAP initiatives that are tailored towards “mental wellness”. Without this in place, it will be difficult to address depression in Indian corporates effectively. Imagine expecting an employee to approach HR about his/her depressive experiences which, by the way, could be completely unrelated to his employment role … most employees wouldn’t want their HR to ever know about their problem for fear of professional repercussions”.
Therappo is an Online Counseling site that brings together experienced psychologists & counselors to clients who need help. Our secure video-chat platform allows sessions to happen in total privacy while remaining in the comfort of your own space (i.e., home or office). Therappo has experienced psychologists who specialize in areas such as Depression, Anxiety, Career Issues, Marriage & Relationship Issues, Stress and many others. All our counselors are fully equipped and trained in Therappo’s online video-chat technology to make your counseling experience comfortable and easy.