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Film by Diversity Dialogues hopes to trigger mindful conversations about workplace mental health

In recent years, there's a growing focus on improving workplace mental health. What's missing is insight that would help companies take this up in a mindful, meaningful way. A conversation that a film by the collective, Diversity Dialogues, is looking to create.

How employees feel, think, and behave has a profound impact on productivity levels at the workplace. Therefore, helping employees improve their mental health is critical for the concerned individual as well as the health of any organisation.

Most companies in India tend to assume that an employee's mental health is strictly their personal business and the organisation does not have a role in it. The few who believe otherwise focus on broader issues like well-being. An approach that needs to change given that one in five persons in India is likely to experience either depression, anxiety, or some serious type of mental illness.

A film called Mental Health at the Workplace - It's Okay to be Not Okay is hoping to trigger this change. The makers are part of Diversity Dialogues, a collective that represents voices of multiple affinity groups working on inclusion across gender, disability, LGBTQ, parenting, mental health and more.

People are so used to being told they need to be perfect, to be independent, to be fully capable and so on, that they don't often recognise when they could use mental health or life coaching services. Add to it the issues around trust and worries over confidentiality in using these services when offered by the work place, and it becomes quite a challenge. - Mahesh Natarajan, Counsellor & Author

The other barrier is stigma, which comes in the way of realising that one needs help.

"Given the stigma associated with mental health, I am not even sure if people are aware of what they are going through, says Madhumitha Venkatraman, a senior diversity and inclusion professional. "So, people don't realise they need and can ask for help. And even when you do go to the next level and seek it, often the organisation does not know how to engage with them.

A delicate balance

Put mental illness in the larger context of how productivity-oriented workplaces are and some of these reactions are understandable. Especially given that in the case of mental health ailments, unlike physical, the recovery time cannot be measured.

"Organisations might not want to take the time and risk with employees when the bottom line is at risk, points out Vijay Ranganathan, among the core members of the team behind the film. "So while time out, team/role changes, limiting work assignments and other aspects might be worked upon in a one off case, companies may not have patience with folks with recurring issues. Also if the mental health issues are complex, they may not have the capacity to deal with a situation.

Maintaining this balance is a tough ask, agrees Mahesh.

"Organisations are typically invested in making sure their staff are at their best and are concerned if there are any issues that might lead employees into serious mental health issues like self-harm, suicidal thoughts. On the other hand, there is a focus on productivity and efficiency, and the ability to work with longer term mental health concerns are difficult to do for many organisations.

For this to happen, there has to be a larger, fundamental change in the way workplaces work, so "people are more comfortable with vulnerability and imperfection and the outlook to productivity is more long term, as Madhumitha puts it. That's the conversation the video hopes to generate.

"I am a strong believer that any change at workplace can only be brought about if there are conversations around it, says Kushal Bhat, an HR professional passionate about inclusion and diversity. While he is all for the flash mobs and yoga corners at the workplace, he believes it's time organisations did more.

"By having these interventions in place you are just ticking the infrastructure box, what is lacking is the conversation part. Around 12.5% of absenteeism at work is related to mental health issues - this is a clear indication that employees can't be their true self in spite of all the infrastructural support organisations tend to provide.

There are welcome initiatives many organisations have introduced like a counselling helpline/service for employees, even extending this to family members. Not too many people use them however, given the stigma associated with topics of mental health.

"There is also the fear that these conversations may not stay confidential, says Madhumitha. "There needs to be a lot more done to build education on this and that will come from leaders being open about their own vulnerabilities.

In keeping with the provisions of the Mental Health Act, 2017, insurance regulator IRDA has asked insurance companies to include treatment for mental health illness, a welcome step that will help break down some of these walls.

The film has been shared by the team within their networks of friends and NGOs, the aim being to finally bring this essential aspect of diversity and inclusion out of the shadows.

WATCH THE FILM: https://youtu.be/UOxLD1U05sw

GET IN TOUCH: Diversity Dialogues is a collective, which has freely accessible and available resources around less spoken areas of inclusion such as mental health, alternate parenting and LBTQIA. They believe in being the voice of the community in the areas they work in and can be found at https://www.facebook.com/DiversityDialoguesIndia. Email them at dialogues.diversity@gmail.com

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