Sun. Sep 24th, 2023
“Mental Health Stays Neglected in the Indian Startup Ecosystem”
“Mental Health Stays Neglected in the Indian Startup Ecosystem”

Dr. Nikhil Agarwal, CEO – IIT Kanpur (SIIC and AIIDE) and the bestselling author of “The Startup Masterplan: How to Build your Business from Scratch” shares insights from his extensive work with Indian startups on the rarely-talked-about prevalence of mental health issues in the startup community and outlines the ways to correctly address them.

There is a long-standing global tradition of observing the month of May every year as Mental Health Awareness Month. Despite the fact that mental ill-health has a devastating impact on individuals, families, and societies, it does not get the attention it requires as it carries a social stigma in India.

In recent years, however, people, especially those belonging to the more socially empowered groups like corporate executives have started to take this issue more seriously and have started seeking the services of mental health professionals when needed.

But there is one community within this group, where this issue is still spoken about rarely, let alone explored or researched. And that is the start-up community.

India’s startup ecosystem, which figures among the world’s most vibrant in terms of numbers, accelerator programs, and investor activity could also be an unforgiving space for its founders. The pressures of success often take a toll on the mental health of founders and professionals. Long hours, high expectations, and a lack of work-life balance are all contributing factors. As a result, many startup founders and professionals are known to experience anxiety, depression, and burnout. Making matters far worse is the fear that investors and coworkers could find those dealing with mental ill-health unsuitable to work with, which may harm the prospects of the startup.

To know more about this situation in how it concerns people in India’s startup community, we turned to Dr. Nikhil Agarwal, CEO – IIT Kanpur (SIIC and AIIDE) and the bestselling author of “The Startup Masterplan: How to Build your Business from Scratch” and one of India’s foremost experts on the country’s startup ecosystem. Presenting, highly insightful and helpful excerpts from a Q&A with Dr. Agarwal about this issue.

Q1. The subject of mental health rarely comes up when we hear or read about happenings in the Indian startup ecosystem in the media. How big or small is the prevalence of mental health issues in the community? What are the reasons, from your perspective, that explains the lack of focus on this issue in the startup community?

The prevalence of mental health issues in the Indian startup ecosystem is significant; even after being brought up in various media reports, it often goes unnoticed. Factors like the high-pressure environment, intense competition, long working hours, and constant uncertainty contribute to a considerable burden on the mental well-being of individuals in the startup community. Additionally, the stigma surrounding mental health in Indian society and the emphasis on productivity and success may discourage individuals from openly seeking help or discussing their struggles.

The startup culture often prioritizes achieving goals and scaling quickly, leaving little space for addressing the mental health needs of entrepreneurs and employees. As a result, mental health remains a neglected and under-discussed issue within the Indian startup ecosystem.

Q2: What are some common mental health challenges faced by founders and professionals in India’s startup ecosystem? What are the main factors that cause these challenges?

Founders and professionals in India’s startup ecosystem struggle with all types of mental health challenges be it anxiety, extreme work-related mental and physical stress levels leading to burnout, and chronic depression. The demanding nature of the startup environment, characterized by long working hours, tight deadlines, and constant pressure to succeed, affects individuals’ mental well-being. The fear of failure, financial instability, and multiple roles and responsibilities further contribute to the challenges. Additionally, the lack of a proper support system, limited access to mental health resources, and the stigma surrounding mental health issues in Indian society exacerbate the situation. The emphasis on achievement often overshadows the need for self-care and mental health support, neglecting individuals’ emotional well-being within the startup ecosystem.

    Q3. What measures or initiatives are being taken by businesses in India to address mental health issues among their employees? Are there any government policies or regulations in place in India to support mental health in the business ecosystem? 

    Businesses in India have increasingly acknowledged the significance of addressing mental health issues among employees, leading to the implementation of various measures and initiatives to support their mental well-being. These include offering employee assistance programs (EAPs), organizing mental health awareness campaigns, counseling services, and conducting stress management workshops. Some companies have also introduced flexible work hours, work-from-home policies, and mindfulness programs to promote a healthy work-life balance.

    As for government policies, India does not have any specific regulations focused solely on mental health in the business ecosystem. However, the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 applies to all sectors. It emphasizes protecting the rights of individuals with mental illnesses, including non-discrimination and access to mental healthcare services.

    Additionally, India’s Labour laws provide a strong framework for occupational health and safety, which can ensure mental well-being in the workplace. Businesses and organizations are taking independent steps to prioritize and support their employees’ mental health.

    Q4. How can HEIs such as IITs and IIMs ensure that startup founders and professionals learn to identify signs and causative factors that are known to cause mental health issues, concerning their own health and that of their peers? Do HEIs carry out any initiatives for this purpose? If so, could you give examples of such initiatives?

    Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) such as IITs and IIMs can equip startup founders and professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills to identify signs and causative factors related to mental health issues. HEIs can incorporate mental health education and awareness programs into their curriculum to address this. By integrating courses or workshops covering topics like stress management, work-life balance, and psychological well-being, HEIs can help individuals better understand mental health challenges and the factors that contribute to them.

    Moreover, HEIs can establish dedicated counseling centers or support services where founders and professionals can seek guidance and assistance. Many HEIs in India have already taken steps in this direction, and these initiatives serve as valuable resources to address mental health concerns and promote a healthier startup ecosystem.

    Q5. What are some best practices that startups and investors in India can follow to effectively address mental health concerns in the startup ecosystem?

    To effectively address mental health concerns in the startup ecosystem, startups and investors in India can adopt several best practices. Firstly, it is crucial to prioritize mental well-being as an integral part of company culture and values. Startups should create a supportive and inclusive work environment that encourages open communication, destigmatizes mental health issues, and promotes work-life balance.

      Fostering a supportive network through peer support groups, mentoring programs, and employee assistance programs can help identify early signs of distress and provide support. Additionally, promoting a healthy work-life balance, encouraging physical activity, and implementing policies that address excessive workload and burnout are vital.

      Lastly, startups and investors can partner with mental health professionals or organizations to provide counseling services, workshops, and resources that cater specifically to the needs of the startup community.

      By implementing these best practices, startups and investors can create a more compassionate and sustainable ecosystem that prioritizes the mental well-being of its members.

      The Startup Masterplan


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