WHY DO WE HESITATE TO SEEK MENTAL HEALTH CARE? LOOKING INTO THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PSYCHOLOGICAL HELP SEEKING.
Dr. Tanay Maiti (DPM,DNB Psych)
Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu.
We all feel distressed. Sometime or other. More or less. If it’s a physical pain or complaint, we all rush to the doctor or help providers. But if it’s a psychological pain? Or discomfort? Millions of barriers and road blocks come to our mind leading to delay in the help seeking, sometime even no help seeking ever. Moreover, not to forget the faith healing, religious acts and similar cultural rituals. The fear, lack of knowledge, and stigmas are predominantly responsible for such poor help seeking attitudes.
The barriers to seek help in case of psychological distress could be of various reasons and origins, starting from the very own cognition of the person to the society the person lives in or the culture he/she belongs to. A person’s self-competency is often threatened severely when he is been advised to seek some professional help for his problem. Cultures which put high values on independence and self-reliance also makes people reluctant to ask for any help till it turns very severe ( e.g. North America). This often results avoidance of help seeking till the emergency or acute verge of breakdown comes very proximal. This tendency often leads to multiple casualties in terms of self harm or instances of violence which is often irreversible with a fatal outcome. And above all, awareness and knowledge about various mental illnesses are often deciding factors to seek appropriate help from the appropriate service providers which certainly lessens the suffering in the individual.
Theorists have tried to explain the psychology behind the help seeking attitudes in various ways. Brehm proposed concept of ‘Reactance’ which is a negative psychological state which becomes prominent when a person’s freedom of choice and autonomy get threatened. Where, in threats-to-self-esteem model Fisher describes that each help seeking condition is a mixture of both positive and negative elements. Depending upon factors like helper, recipient and context, the help seeker may perceive the situation as self threatening or self supportive.
The available nature of care can be an informal one, like suggestion or discussion with family, friend or relatives; or could be of formal nature like proper professional cares and welfare services. interestingly researches has shown that comparing to younger people, the older adults are mostly reluctant to seek formal care and mostly rely on previous experiences or various form of informal cares. Atchley tried to explain this by his Continuity theory which says about the mental image a person constructs in his psyche about self and environment, which grows with time and take a specific shape by the time a person turns old, when any change is difficult if not troublesome. However according to Anderson and Newman’ proposed Social Behavior Model, various personal and demographic characteristics like age, sex, marital status, education often takes the prominent role in deciding the nature of help seeking pattern. . Researchers using this model have found that the predisposing characteristics of being older, female, unmarried, and more highly educated, and the enabling characteristic of income, are associated with increased likelihood of service.
To conclude, apart from all the theoretical models, individuals help seeking pattern is often multifactorial. Various factors, be it environmental or psychological we need to be aware of them all and consider them with adequate importance. Else, blind following of any tailor made policy will not only waste the available resources but also direct the whole program in a false direction. This is particularly of utmost importance in case of community care where both individual and societal factors need to be dealt appropriately to expect a successful implementation of health care model.
What organisations can do to address rising mental health disorders among workforce
When a high-performing career woman, a new mother and a devoted wife gets entangled in trying to meet the expectations of modern society’s increasingly stressful demands, more often than not it results in her succumbing to its pressures. Similar is the result when an extremely bright, young college graduate, new husband and perhaps the only male child in the family tries to navigate the rules of today’s competitive corporate world.
Nearly one in every three employees, working with large and small companies in our country today, suffers from anxiety and depression – the two most common causes of mental health issues and more than 45% of entire employed workforce is facing this, according to published statistics.
The oft-used term to describe the corporate world today is ‘VUCA’, which stands for one where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity seem to call the shots and frame rules. This has resulted in increasing stress for employees, their managers and top management of businesses – unrealistic demands, targets, euphoric highs followed by extreme lows, sleep deprivation, dissatisfaction and fears – it is not uncommon to then see stress snowball into anxiety and depression.
Mental health issues like postpartum, schizophrenia, phobias, bipolar disorder, body image issues like weight management, anorexia are on the rise in today’s offices and working conditions are not at all equipped to identify these issues to begin with. Stigmas associated with any form of mental health problems prevent them from being addressed in most companies. Even as early as last year, at least two high-profile young corporate executives committed suicide due to increased stress leading to acute clinical depression. Globally, WHO data states that depression is the leading cause of suicides among 15-to-29-year olds and over 350 million people suffer from it.
Such alarming statistics call for necessary intervention and increased awareness about depression and anxiety in the first place and corporate human resources teams can perhaps take the initiative. While some companies are waking up and offering assistance in order to cope with these issues, in many cases, help becomes difficult when employees themselves are unaware that they suffer from one or other forms of depression. Instead, these are often dismissed as ‘mood swings’, leading to severe repercussions later on. Companies must make the effort to ensure managers are aware and note if any member in their team displays signs of depression such as increased absenteeism, substance abuse, conflicts with co-workers and dwindling performance. Organisations must provide an outlet for employees to voice their grievances and concerns and make it anonymous, if need be. Efforts may be undertaken to encourage and support seeking of professional help from counsellors at early stages.
Workshops and sessions with new parents to help them cope with increased responsibilities, voluntary child-care facilities and day-care assistance for new fathers are some of the other initiatives that organisations can encourage for their employees. Managers must be encouraged to build better relationships with their team and understand their personal commitments, while at the same time more efforts undertaken to strengthen employee engagement within the organisation. Such activities may be undertaken especially leveraging occasions such as World Mental Health Day, to further sensitize the workforce and create awareness.
After all, if mental health disorders go undetected, it affects productivity, morale and performance and can ultimately affect business’ bottomlines.