Private Sector Solutions in India for Mental Health in the Workplace

By Abby Christopher

One in seven Indians are living with mental health disorders, and India’s treatment gap of any mental disorder is 83 percent. The government and social sector alone do not have the resources to adequately address the problem. The private sector can play a key role in addressing the mental health crisis in India by providing mental health resources to employees.

Apart from the immense social costs associated with untreated mental health symptoms, there is a substantial economic impact to consider. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the economic loss in India due to mental health conditions to be $1.03 trillion between 2012 and 2030. At the firm level, a Deloitte report studying the state of mental wellbeing in corporate India estimates that poor mental health among employees costs employers about $14 billion a year due to absenteeism, presenteeism, and attrition. Covering the treatment gap is evidenced to yield an overwhelmingly positive return on investment not only for society, but also for the employers themselves. A WHO-led study analyzing the cost and benefit of scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety disorders finds that every $1 invested in expanded mental health care results in $4 in economic and health returns.

To help employees stay healthy at work, employers should implement a comprehensive and proactive mental health strategy. Such a strategy could encompass the following:
  1. Address Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace: A Deloitte study finds that 80 percent of the Indian workforce reported mental health issues in the past year, but mental health stigma prevented 39 percent of the affected respondents from seeking assistance. Startup organizations within India have expanded their presence to break this stigma. Employers can partner with these organizations, which provide education and training on mental health symptoms. There are many corporate wellness programs that deliver custom mental health workshops and train employees to be peer champions. These stigma reduction initiatives will allow more employees to utilize existing mental health resources and make employees more cognizant of mental health stressors.
  2. Utilize evidence-driven conversational AI chatbots: A study conducted by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence in 11 different countries finds that 68 percent of employees would prefer to talk to a robot about workplace anxiety rather than their manager. The number is much higher in India at 92 percent. While meditation programs help with mindfulness and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) services address mental health diagnoses, these solutions alone do not provide intermediary mental health support. Evidence-driven AI solutions utilize techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to support the larger range of employees’ mental health needs. These programs can provide a virtual stand-in for employees in mental health distress and operate as a supplementary resource that allows employees to discuss workplace stressors without fear of repercussion, stigma, or judgement.
While gaps in resources and mental health stigma within India may inhibit rapid improvement in the country’s mental health care system, there are clear opportunities for India’s private sector. The above recommendations are two of the many employee-focused interventions the private sector can leverage to improve the mental health crisis in India. For companies, an investment in employees’ mental health is an investment in their growth and sustainability.
Abby Christopher is a former research intern for the Wadhwani Chair in U.S. India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.