When You Need to Take Time Off Work for Mental Health Reasons
Supporting Return to Work Success
How to File for a Stress Leave at Work
If you find yourself surfing through the web and reading these articles, you probably already know that you will, once again, miss the visit to your therapist this week.
You must be thinking: No number of ‘How to’ articles will ever prepare me to deal with my extra khadoos manager to get me that day off.
When you catch a bad cold or have an appointment with your banker, asking for a half day, or a sick or casual leave comes naturally.
But when it comes to making that routine trip to one’s psychologist, not everyone can be that confident and matter-of-fact about it. Even when it should be a ‘no biggie’, given that at least on paper and with laws in place, there is more awareness with in companies, as Dr Kamna Chhibber points out.
“There are a few occasions when a patient can’t keep their appointment or have to reschedule last minute due to a meeting or something but accessing help for mental health issues has become relatively easier for working professionals thanks to the more sensitised employers and organisations that encourage their employees.”Kamna Chhibber, Clinical Psychologist
It’s Okay to Be Not Okay
The hesitation, Dr. Chhibber clarifies, often stems from the patient's own reservations.
“It is definitely not the norm that a working professional would proactively talk to their respective manager to address their mental health issues. Often, it is not because of ‘what the manager would say’ or ‘if they would understand’ but their own reservation on discussing something that is private in nature. And then of course there are some who don't talk about it because of the stigma attached, as it's a long road to go before it is fully destigmatised.”
Having said that, Dr Chhibber feels positive about the steps that have already been taken in this regard. Thanks to actively taking part in awareness programs and campaigns to destigmatise mental health issues, corporations and workplaces have done a great deal in recent years so employees don’t feel insecure and intimidated to come forth to seek help. After all, cut throat competition and high pressure for performance in workplaces are one of the major sources of stress and anxiety among young professionals.
Need More Participation
But how effective are these workshops and do employees actively get involved beyond the surface?
“Generally speaking in India, the participation in the workshops, seminars and other sessions related to mental health awareness may be just a routine exercise for employees. Some just turn up because of the multiple mailers that we send,” observes Tanzeeen Afrin Begum, who works as HR- talent acquisition for Apollo Munich.
“In India, they don’t think too deeply about it – the stress they are facing, why they are being anxious, if they need a professional’s help etc. The health insurance company that I am currently working for has wellness programs for employees that includes hair care, dental care, consultation with a nutritionist, etc.”
If one were to tally the employee attendance/participation data among these various free consultations arranged by the company, sessions with a counsellor aren’t as popular, as per Hussain’s observation.
All Is Not Rosy
“We also have to heed extra caution in how we present these sessions to the employees, assuming that many are not sensitised to it. Often open association with mental health issues discourages them to participate due to the stigma and judgement attached. They get embarrassed to walk into such sessions, and end up not getting the right help.Tanzeeen Afrin Begum
Admitting emotional vulnerability to a colleague or someone who judges your performance can’t be easy, even in a relatively liberal and open-minded work space, as this media professional point out.
As a person diagnosed with anxiety disorder, there are times I get terrible panic attacks because of certain triggers. I do take my anti-anxiety pills only when needed but while going through it at work it gets really difficult. It gets worse as I feel what if my colleagues judge me for these mental breakdowns.Parthavee Singh
Singh explains that having a great work culture doesn’t help much, till our mental health issues become something we can easily talk about with our seniors without feeling that they might consider it a threat to the work we deliver, even when it’s not a threat.
Dr. Chhibber reinforces that having mental health issues don’t directly relate to under performance. Infact, in a sensitised environment it is possible to detect, diagnose and redress issues, while maintaining a perfectly functioning work life.
There are treatments and programs that take into account a person’s daily life, and it is customised according to the patient’s need. Obviously if the situation becomes severe or it is detected late then it takes longer time to heal as well,” says Chhibber, adding, “But for the most part if you are seeking help at a time when you have begun to experience such issues, it is possible to ensure that the treatment does not mar your work or professional life.”Dr Chhibber
Chhibber suggests to look out for symptoms that compromises your ability to function well, anything that causes distress or stress that is lasting for several days. That being said, there is no one general way to detect mental health vulnerabilities, and hence it is advisable to seek help actively.
Several institutions are also looking to set up helplines to encourage employees to anonymously seek help if needed.
“When it comes to addressing mental health issues in the workplace, allow employees anonymity. It offers them a quick and private means to seek help. It connects them to a ready list of professionals, covering a range of issues. An employee can seek a free consultation from anyone of them. All anonymously. From managers to trainees, ” says Hussain, adding that the numbers are speaking in favour of an app-based program.
“We collect data from the professionals listed on the app to assess at the end of the month. According to those records, almost 30 percent users have used it ask queries or meet the professionals. While their identities and specific issues stay with the respective counsellors, their general feedback to us and the manager help us create a healthier and stress free work environment.”
But for issues that have prolonged and need more attention than a general visit to a counsellor, it is not a bad idea to take an extended leave to heal and then return back to work.
India does not have a mental health specific leave, but as Dr Chhibber points out, one can always take the delegated sick leave for the same purpose.
A social media thread by an employee regarding taking a mental health leave started a conversation, both in the US and here in India.
While Indian workplaces have a long way to go in effectively addressing these issues, both Hussain and Dr Chhibber believe a major step forward would be when office goers overcome their fear of ‘log kya kahenge’ . And for that we need to normalise the issue.
Treating mental health issues should be as simple, and obvious as treating any physical ailment.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)