Can companies stand up for Mental Health?

According to the World Health Organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Most of the focus in India is around disease management and cure. Mental health, on the other hand, is mostly ignored because it has no real physical manifestation. Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems and mental health is now reaching epidemic levels in most countries across the world. Described as a ‘silent killer,’ stress has been reported to be the root cause of various illnesses and conditions, with depression and anxiety rates in India among children and adults reaching high numbers. About 9.8 million Indian teenagers need active interventions to treat anxiety and depression related issues. Recognizing this global crisis, the UN SDG’s contain goals and targets around mental health in Goal 3 which covers Good Health and Wellbeing.

However, no one seems to be talking about it!

Possibly because, mental health is mostly seen as a taboo subject in India. Misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental health are widespread leading to exclusion from the healthcare system. Additionally, private and public sector hospitals don’t consider this an important area of intervention, which is possibly why it is impossible to find good psychiatrists and counsellors in big cities, let alone small towns. Mental health is mostly ignored by large Indian companies too. About 80% of India’s top 200 companies invest their CSR funds in health or education or both. However, with the exception of a handful of initiatives around wellness CSR funds are largely deployed for disease prevention and management only.

But companies can do much more than deploying funds. “Awareness building and conversations around mental health issues are half the battle”, says Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson, Mpower, a social enterprise that helps address mental health issues. Companies can take a strategic approach to mental health and wellbeing of employees and their families by making mental health training an integral part of onboarding employees. Further companies that are already investing in health and education as part of CSR can insist that schools should employ counsellors for students and hospitals create mental health departments. More so, most companies have a large footprint, extending to thousands of employees and millions of consumers. This large network can be used effectively by companies in building conversational platforms around mental health to remove the stigma it currently has.

Mpower under Mrs Birla’s leadership is working in three broad areas to address mental health issues – awareness-building campaigns, clinical services as well as awareness building workshops. Mpower is a social enterprise registered under The Aditya Birla Education Trust. “Many mental health issues are a result of loneliness,” says Mrs Birla, “and technology while connecting people is also creating islands of loneliness, anxiety, and stress. To help each other we need to start the process of listening to and talking with people in need of our help. As more and more technology permeates our lives, the always on, always connected lifestyle builds stress and a constant desire for more. Mental health needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency. We need to act now, and we need to act together”.

Based on a conversation with Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson, Mpower

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