With a population of 1 billion, India has been termed as the most depressed country in the world by WHO. One in every 5 Indians suffers from some mental health issue or the other in their lifetime. Unfortunately, only 10-12 of them seek professional help. Mostly, due to the cynical perceptions surrounding mental health amongst their peers, and society as a whole.
A recent study showed that 87% of the population is aware of common terms related to mental health. So, one would think that awareness is not an issue. But almost 71% of them associate a negative connotation to the said terms. Some refrain from socializing with mentally ill people and keeping them at a safe distance. Others, pass them up for housing or employment opportunities. This increase the struggle of mentally-ill people. Not only are they tackling the burden of mental illness internally, but they also have to deal with resistance from those around them.
To top that, Assocham estimated that 42.5% of Indian private sector employees have general anxiety disorder, depression or both. This is frequently attributed to less compensation and more working hours. (minimum of 48-50 hours a week) This results in an atmosphere of constant fatigue, stress, and dissatisfaction.
As a mentally-ill (or neurodivergent) individual in the country, if you’re joining the workforce or are already part of it, here are a few things you can do to manage your job without lesser hiccups:
Set realistic goals
As an industry-standard, there’s always a lot that is expected of you. You have to be a team player, emotionally intelligent, and persuasive. You also should have good communication skills, salesperson-type personalities, networking capability. Apart from that, you should be able to adhere to standard company practices without any special accommodations.
Even on your best day, you won’t be able to bring all of these to the table every single day. Instead of thinking that you can take care of everything, set your priorities. Then, establish goals that you can actually achieve in a given timeframe.
Jaime Kulaga, a licensed mental health counsellor and life coach, recommends using the acronym SMART. When you’re organizing your work board be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. Oftentimes, employees at a fast-paced workplace feel compelled to set goals that heavily compromise their bandwidth. This is primarily because they’re either constantly trying to prove themselves or comparing themselves to another colleague. As a result, they end up feeling overwhelmed (and anxious!) by thinking too many steps ahead.
You’re less likely to experience stress and when you can match the work expectations with your skill-set and abilities. By setting realistic goals, you’re much more in control on how to work for maximum output. List all responsibilities you have for the day (platforms like Trello and Asana can be super helpful, in this regard!). This way, you’re aware of the top five things that need your undivided attention.
In certain cases, you also have to make the decision of “quality over quantity”. Would you rather spend 30 minutes on a rough draft for a blog post that can be re-worked later. Or, start the blog post from scratch (6 hours, approx.) without acknowledging the other things on your to-do list?
While you don’t have to half-ass anything you do, you can always break a task down into sub-tasks that are less time-consuming but equally stimulating.
According to a 2009 Stanford University study, compulsive multitaskers are less mentally organized. They constantly struggle to transition from one task to another. As a result, they have a difficult time distinguishing relevant data from the irrelevant one. Not only this, when employees balance more than one task at a time, their productivity follows a sharp decline. This decline can be equated to global losses of $450 million per year.
You’re switching attention from one thing to the next, for example, music to chat alerts to email to client calls, every few minutes, without being completely present on either of them. Eventually, you start backtracking a lot. You’re constantly repeating bits and pieces of the tasks that you’ve already completed to find out where you last left off.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you about the ineffectiveness of multitasking, here’s a kicker. Recent research found that the more you multitask, the more likely you’re to report symptoms of chronic stress, depression, and social anxiety.
Strongly consider disclosing your mental health issues at work
One in every three people struggle with their mental health while being employed. But, with proper support, most of them can balance their work responsibilities with daily mental health challenges.
Disclosing your mental health issues is entirely a personal choice. However, being open about requiring an extra push can help you navigate through your workplace in a better way. Word of caution, though- While some people agree that talking to your managers has been a life-saver, some believe it’s a recipe for disaster. According to the law, employers aren’t supposed to openly discriminate against mentally ill employees. Ideally, they should offer them reasonable adjustments to take advantage of. However, given the stigma around mental health, your immediate manager or superiors might consider you a ‘less than able’ employee.
How to disclose about your mental health
If you do decide on disclosing about your mental health to your employer, start by requesting a one-on-one meeting. Remember, you can talk as much and as little as you feel is appropriate. Once you’ve explained your exact issues (depression, anxiety, etc), discuss more how they affect your work. Then move on to changes (if any) that can help you perform your best. In case you’re unsure about what will help you, try adopting a few experimental steps. Make a mental note of which of them actually help you.
Your legal rights
In the U.S., the Equality Act demands that manager to not be dismissive about your concerns. Also, he cannot discriminate against you during recruitment, retaining and promotion. You have rights to employment, and shouldn’t be treated as an outcast because of your mental health. In some areas, employers are expected to provide you with reasonable assistance to help you accommodate. In India, individuals with mental health do have their own set of legal rights. However, there isn’t an extensive section covering laws that cover employment.
Therefore, you must not only play your cards right as a mentally ill employee, but also decide if you want to play at all. Some millennial-led startups and small businesses have started offering paid leaves owing to mental health. They are striving to create an inclusive workplace for their mentally ill employees, however, this hasn’t become the norm yet. So, weigh your pros and cons about if and how much you want to talk about your mental health.
It also helps to have a support system within your office. You can start off by finding some friends at your workplace and building meaningful friendships with your colleagues.
While we hope the above tips can be helpful, it’s imperative that you seek professional help on the side. It can accelerate your recovery and mental well-being. Whether you benefit from psychological therapy or psychiatric counseling, consult a medical professional. Only they can understand the extent of your condition and offer appropriate treatment.