‘Corporates need to come out of the closet on mental health’

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on September 14, 2019

when the chips are down, it’s good to have a mentor or go to a psychiatrist   -  kieferpix

When 33-year-old Parimal Shah heard of Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha’s death by suicide, it struck a chord at many levels.

CCD’s entrepreneurial journey was viewed as a success story by many in the world of business, including Parimal, the third generation of the MK Jokai Group promoter family. But closer home, Parimal’s family was in a similar business, dealing in Assam orthodox tea and exporting coffee to Russia.

“Business is just part of one’s life, it does not define us,” says Parimal, referring to the “tremendous pressure” on entrepreneurs to excel.

But in an economically difficult environment, business-related stress shows up in the form of debt and job losses, for instance, taking its toll on entrepreneurs and employees.

And in the absence of a societal-cushion, such economic knocks are perceived as “failures”, something that people are ill-equipped to deal with, and sometimes with tragic consequences.

“Failures” go down very badly, especially after a certain age, says Parimal, despite there being many examples in history of people bouncing back and not giving up. Personally, he says, “an entrepreneur is measured not by success but by his/her resilience, daring and vision.”

By the law of averages, nothing is steady, be it a cardiogram or the stock market, he says, on life not being uni-directional. So, when the chips are down, “it’s good to have a mentor or go to a psychiatrist,” who can put matters in perspective and point out that the employee or business person was not the only one going through an economic slump. “It’s always good to talk to someone, as sometimes wisdom comes from the least expected quarters. Your life partner is a good person to talk to,” he says. Recalling the advice of his spiritual guru, Parimal says, “it’s good to be passionate, not impassionate. But it’s best to be dispassionate.” People need to have the wisdom to keep a distance between life’s events and oneself, he explains.

Suicide rates the highest in high-income countries and is the second leading cause of death among young people, says the World Health Organization. “Despite progress, one person still dies every 40 seconds from suicide,” WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said recently, ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day, calling on countries to incorporate suicide prevention strategies into health and education programmes. “Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. Yet, suicides are preventable.”

Neerja Birla, who founded Mpower to bring about greater awareness on mental health, says that corporates need to come out of the closet when it comes to talking about and tackling such issues. “A lot more communication is required and entrepreneurs need to take responsibility of their mental health,” she says, specially since stress and stiff deadlines have become a part of modern life.

High achievers often believe they cannot have a mental problem and ignore the signs. “Having a mental illness is not the end of one’s career. You can take help and come back,” she says. And once corporates put systems in place to handle this, the stigma too will reduce.

Published on September 14, 2019

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