Art and colours enlighten workplace mental stress

A unique first of its kind public health engagement workshop on workplace mental stress was organised on 30th August The George Institute for Global Health India, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust – Department of Biotechnology India Alliance as part of their multi-country ‘Arting for Mental Health project’.

The participants were drawn from various professional organisations working in Delhi and the objective was to discuss challenges to mental health at the workplace – an issue which is not discussed much in the public space but which assumes importance in the light of the growing pressures on individuals to perform in the highly competitive professional environment.  

At the outset, Richa Kedia, an artist who helped conduct the workshop, asked everyone to express through colours and drawings the way they relieve stress when they feel tense. People came up with varying expressions of art and colour as an effective way to reduce stress. This set the tone for the workshop where mental health professionals from the George Institute sensitised them to workplace stress issues and drew them to discuss the challenges they face.

Workplace stress factors identified by the participants included a range of challenges people face when they have to work under deadlines and during their interactions with people who react differently to stress. Long working hours, strict deadlines and performance expectations are some key factors leading to workplace stress, participants felt.

Diversity and inclusion for each other’s opinions can go a long way in ensuring that these challenges are met with dignity and respect, it was pointed out.

Workplace stress remains an often-neglected aspect across different industries and countries, including India. World Health Organization defines workplace stress as ‘the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope’.

Some key factors that cause increased stress at workplace are workload (both excessive and insufficient work), lack of participation and control in the workplace, monotonous or unpleasant tasks, role ambiguity or conflict, lack of recognition at work, inequity, poor interpersonal relationships, poor working conditions, poor leadership and communication and conflicting home and work demands.

Mental health researchers Amanpreet Kaur and Mercian Daniels from The George Institute shared information on common mental disorders and stigma and encouraged participants to reflect on their attitudes and behaviour towards those with mental health challenges in our professional and workspaces.

Neeti Sharma, Human Resource Manager at the George Institute, India led a session which helped participants identify mental health issues and how appropriate human resource policies can be developed to tackle the increasing challenges faced by employees at the workplace

At the workshop, participants discussed workplace stress related scenarios and how they would have helped the person if they were his or her colleague. This was followed by a discussion on what they would have done if they were in the place of the person who was facing the challenge. Discussions around these scenarios helped deconstruct the challenges and coping mechanisms relating to workplace mental stress.

A key issue that was discussed was the need to speak about mental health issues at the workplace, such that stress related to work pressures can be identified early and corrective measures can be taken, both by the employer and employee. Such strategies when integrated in a seamless manner within existing organizational values will lead to increased productivity and a healthier workforce.    

“We are happy to be a part of this process and provide a forum for working professionals to speak about workplace stress. Just talking about these issues can go a long way in recognising the challenges and in coming up with solutions to the same,”

says Pallab K. Maulik, Deputy Director, The George Institute for Global  Health India and a mental health researcher himself.

The George Institute and the Welcome Trust will organise a unique mental health public health engagement at the Saket City Walk mall on September 14. The idea is to continue the public engagement on workplace stress and take it to the people themselves. Such events, it is hoped, will not only create awareness but will also provide a platform for interactions between mental health professionals and the public thus strengthening the societal resolve to tackle such issues.