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MENTAL MELTDOWN

profile picture M. PIRAVI PERUMAL    Posted on 02 March 2009,  
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SHRINKING jobs, pay cuts and loss of perks owing to the recession have taken a heavy toll on the mental health of a large section of India’s high-profile workforce. “Since August-September there has been a four-fold increase in the number people seeking help to handle their emotional and psychological problems. Typically, the majority of those seeking psychiatric help are in the 25-30 age group, people who are comparatively fresh in their careers and have been used to a fluid, vibrant, dynamic lifestyle,” says psychiatrist Dr Jitendra Nagpal, a consultant psychiatrist with the Delhi-based Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (VIMHANS). Nagpal, who has been working for more than a decade in the area of community mental health care, says between August and December he treated five to seven cases a week for work-related stress. The number went up to 10 a week in January. His patients had either lost their jobs or held jobs but had lost the motivation to work in the absence of incentives. The symptoms, says Nagpal, were insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability, withdrawal behaviour, long spells of silence, lack of communication with friends or family members and absenteeism. “These people are not typically mentally ill as, medically speaking, they are not yet cases of depression, but could fast degenerate into depression cases if not detected and treated in time,” he says. Although no empirical data are available on how many people affected by the recession are suffering from work-related stress, the increase in the number of cases recently is a matter of concern and both the organisations and the families need to be alert and sensitive to such behaviour among their members. Nagpal says the largest number of cases were from the stock market, call centres, investment banking and other financial services sector. “These people find themselves unable to face the realities of failure, and when their self-esteem goes down they develop a fear for work. They feel no excitement about getting up in the morning or even doing their routine things,” he says. According to Dr Sonali Bali, consultant psychiatrist at VIMHANS specialising in work-related stress cases, the biggest factors pushing up the stress level is the inability to maintain a particular lifestyle or pay the EMIs (equated monthly instalments) to financing agencies. This has led to anxiety, adjustment problems, alcoholism and drug abuse, spinning life out of control. Interestingly, she observes that work-related stress is almost a male phenomenon, with fewer females showing such symptoms. “Maybe the natural multitasking abilities of women make them handle stress better. Out of every 10 patients, the ratio is eight males to two females,” says Nagpal. Another observation made by the two doctors is that those living in joint families tend to cope with stress better than those living in nuclear families. “Ours is a family-based society and in times of crises, the family acts like the shock absorber. The extended family becomes the cushion to absorb anxiety. The sense of emptiness or the low self-esteem noticed at such times gets reduced if one has strong family bonds,” says Nagpal. That is why the mental meltdown in the wake of the downturn is still a metro-centric phenomenon (where nuclear family is the norm) and is not reported so much in the semi-urban or rural areas although people are losing jobs there as well, he argues. Nagpal says a ritual-based routine – yoga, meditation, any form of worship or regular exercise can help cope with stress better because of the inner strength these activities provide. “Our management gurus should focus on giving inherent life skills to youngsters in order to mould them into stronger individuals. They need to be taught to handle failures as failures are a part of life,” Nagpal says. The silver lining is that people are realising the need for professional help to tackle emotional stress and coming forward to seek such help. “Indians have inherent strength and resilience to deal with any crisis,” says Dr B.N. Gangadhar, head of psychiatry at the Bangalore-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences. He says there is no cause for alarm although there is an increase in job-related stress. Gangadhar says there is no cause for alarm. “People are coming for counselling and treatment, but there is nothing much to worry,” he says. Incidentally, Bangalore, the information technology capital and the hub of the quaternary sector has reported the highest number of suicides in India in the wake of the crisis.
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