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Spark.Live Conversation with Psychologist Shruti Pakrasi: Mental Health in India’s Working Population

Shruti Pakrasi, Counseling and Organizational Psychologist

While the topic of mental health has slowly been gaining traction in certain spheres, it has been a little slow in the corporate sector. Mental health days in India are virtually unheard of, and most employees do not disclose their mental health struggles with their colleagues or superiors. The uncertainty related to disclosure of mental health struggles, the impact of rumors on future career prospects, and the stigma attached to therapy make employees wary. However, working populations are more likely to experience burnout due to their hectic lifestyles and lack of work-life balance.

The current Covid-19 pandemic has led to millions of Indians losing their jobs, pay cuts, and difficulty finding new jobs. It has led to a drastic change in the way organizations are operated all over the globe. This sudden change and uncertainty regarding the future, both professional and personal, leads to increased stress, anxiety, and depression.

We talk to Counseling and Organizational Psychologist, Shruti Pakrasi, about the way we can start addressing the mental health crisis within the corporate sector in India. She has obtained her Master’s degrees in Psychology from the University of London (Organizational) and SNDT University (Counseling) and comes with over 12 years of corporate experience. Shruti is registered with the Rehabilitation Council of India and is extensively working in the space of Mental Health in the Workplace. She is also a Therapist with the Live, Love, Laugh Foundation in Mumbai.

Q: What are some of the biggest issues you have noticed as an organizational psychologist?

A: The working population of India is one of our most prized assets. There is tremendous talent amongst the different sectors – a beautiful amalgamation of all the various qualities and competencies that the young, as well as the experienced and seasoned workers, bring to the table.

However, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that currently the working population of India is exposed to a variety of Psychosocial Risk Factors, which are in many ways creating barriers towards people realizing and living up to their truest potential. Given the pressures that this population handles, my observation is that the Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being of the working population is taken for granted (just because they show up to work), and therefore a neglected area.

Q: Do you believe we could benefit from sensitization training at Indian workplaces?

A: Yes, certainly. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with thousands of employees through multiple workshops I have conducted on Mental Health Awareness for various companies across different industries. My observation is that the lack of awareness is often at the root of the lack of sensitivity, lack of empathy, judgment issues, fear, and that big monster that we refer to as ‘stigma.’ 

Therefore, sensitization training can go a long way in creating more humane work environments where we are more accepting of each other, we treat each other with empathy, and we also encourage each other to reach out and seek help.

Q: How do you propose a professional maintain a healthy work-life balance during WFH (work from home)?

A: Well, easier said than done. It’s mainly about establishing those healthy boundaries. 

One mistake that we tend to make while striking a balance is attempting an equal distribution of our time, which is not always realistic. Also, trying to achieve a perfect balance each and every day is another trap that we unconsciously create for ourselves at times. Especially when we are working from home, it is important to accept that every day might not be the same. At times we will be handling conflicting priorities, and therefore, that element of mental flexibility helps in protecting ourselves from a daily frustration cycle – one we are at risk of experiencing when we approach the work-life balance in a rather idealistic way.

Having said that, how well we understand our priorities at work, at home, and for the self enables us to establish essential boundaries. These boundaries help us in setting time aside for self-care, for our duties at home, for meaningful relationships, work, etc. 

At the end of the day, it’s a very unique formula for each individual. Discovering it is a beautiful journey, often accompanied by a sense of peace and fulfillment derived from the understanding that one is living an uncompromised life.

Q: What would you say to someone who has been laid off due to the pandemic and is facing difficulty finding a new job?

A: This year is turning out to be a very difficult year, and its impact is being felt in so many aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, the economic blow has been so severe that it is impacting our jobs and livelihood.

Each person’s journey will be very unique within this context, and I don’t think it would be fair to make a generic statement.

However, in my experience of working with several employees going through the laying off process (pre-pandemic), I have observed that we tend to attach a lot of importance to our jobs and define our identity and self-worth through them. So, the first step is to not take the layoff personally. A business decision, or any organizational politics, does not define your worth or competency. Your true talent will shine irrespective of where you are. It’s time to focus on that true talent.

Here are some perspectives to consider:

  • Who you are and what you do are separate. Are we mixing the two? To the extent that our entire self worth revolves around our job? Yes, they may have an impact on each other, but one does not define the other. 
  • The dynamics of the working world are changing very fast. Therefore, the way we view work, performance, jobs, loyalty, etc. needs to evolve accordingly. 

Q: It is very common to go to therapy for a specific issue and end up unearthing more issues – what would you say to people who are apprehensive about therapy due to this reason? 

A: Simply put – there are, broadly, two reasons why most people avail therapy and usually they get what they want. 

There is no pressure in therapy. You drive the flow, and what you take away from therapy is also very personal to you. The therapist creates an environment for you to think, feel, and experience some dimensions which were perhaps unexplored. These dimensions can have a significant impact on a specific life situation or your life journey as a whole. The choice really lies with the individual!

The two options are:

  • Band-Aid Approach– you are facing a specific challenge, and you are looking at very specific techniques/solutions to address your challenge – short term focus.
  • Working on Root Causes– yes, you came with a specific challenge and looking for a specific technique to address that challenge, however, during the process, some deeper issues got uncovered, which might play a significant role not only in the short-term but also in the long-term. You realize this and make an informed choice about how you want to take the therapy forward. Just focus on the band-aid, or work on the root cause/deeper issues for a long-term sustainable impact. 

So, there is no need to be apprehensive. The choice always lies with the client. You get what you want.

Click here to book a session with Shruti Pakrasi today!

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