• An Ipsos poll of the happiest nations finds the mental well-being of people in India is declining.
  • Digitization, the pandemic and urbanization are thought to have increased levels of anxiety and stress.
  • Concern about mental health and awareness of its importance for overall well-being is growing worldwide.
  • Many companies are embracing positive messaging to tackle mental health issues in the workplace.

Indians used to record some of the highest scores in global happiness ratings, but from the summer of 2019, things began to unravel.

Ipsos’ Global Happiness Survey 2020 found that, by August 2020, only 66% of Indians described themselves as ‘very happy’ or ‘rather happy’, down 23 percentage points from 2011, and 11 percentage points lower than 2019.

The research identifies three main causes for the decline.

Life online takes its toll

The benefits of internet access are reaching more people in India, with a 2019 McKinsey report suggesting that the number of internet users in the country would increase by 40% by 2023.

Although, the digital divide means that while 23% of urban households have access to computers, only 4% do in the countryside.

But even then, access to the internet isn’t without its downsides.

A separate Ipsos study showed that while many Indians are likely to buy products or experiences that will ‘look good in photos online’, they also feel that their lives have become meaningless.

Many Indians lament the pressure to be always available online and portray near-perfect lives on social media. It’s a pressure felt around the world and, as a result, some people now choose to take a digital detox and give themselves a temporary break from phones and devices.

Percentage of people who say mental health is one of the top health problems facing people n their countries today.
Percentage of people who say mental health is one of the top health problems facing people n their countries today.
Image: Ipsos

The pandemic effect

The enforced isolation brought by COVID mitigation measures has amplified the growing sense of social dislocation in India, and across the world.

All the things that promote a sense of well-being – employment, socializing, going to school, exercising and accessing health services – were curtailed during the pandemic, with mental health paying the price.

Indians are not alone in struggling with the emotional effects of the pandemic. This year’s World Happiness Report found that the pandemic had shaken up lives the world over. As a result, mental health is the third-biggest concern of people globally after coronavirus and cancer.

Urban pressures

While increased prosperity has benefitted many Indians, the number of people moving to work in cities has increased traffic congestion, noise and pollution, resulting in raised anxiety levels.

A report from 2018 also revealed that demanding bosses meant Indian employees were missing out on sleep, exercise and a chance to unwind.

Positive messaging

However, the pandemic has brought people’s mental health, and the need to support it, into sharp focus.

Many companies are embracing positive messaging and developing products to promote self-care, as people are encouraged to talk more openly about the challenges they face.

Modern life is also offering remedies: from smartphones and wearables that track mood and diet, to online yoga classes and apps that support mindfulness and relaxation techniques.