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Most armies of the world follow a version of the British Defence Doctrine that lays down Ten Principles of War, the first of which is “Selection and Maintenance of Aim”. If the national aim is to achieve quick economic recovery, then we need to remember that the second of the Ten Principles is “Maintenance of Morale”, without which no war, including the one against Covid, can be won.

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By the time the pandemic fades into memory, millions of Indians would have been infected and hundreds of thousands killed. But not a single citizen will remain unaffected. Each of us would have, with some degree of separation, lost a loved one, endured financial and social losses, and for a majority, suffered a decline in quality of life. Graduating students will encounter subdued hiring.

Financing ventures will become harder. Social instability indicators such as domestic violence, road rage and crime have started shooting up. This pent-up stress, anxiety and fear will channelise themselves into low tolerance and increased anger, especially against the haves. While India has handled the battle against Covid-19 well, we face a much bigger challenge in terms of bringing back positivity into the ravaged social psyche.

Morale, positive outlook and a sense of hope fuel economics, which reflects in the Gross Domestic Product. It is impossible for any organisation or nation to achieve its full potential when the mood is despondent. Entrepreneurship and innovation are a state of mind and, without the foundation of high morale, it is impossible to leverage concrete resource outlays. India needs to address the morale and mental state of our citizens on a war-footing for a faster recovery.

This is easy to understand at an individual level. A sad person cannot, just biologically, engage in any productive activity. We are driven by chemicals in the brain that propel us to achieve our goals. The capitalist who seeks to enlarge her empire, the soldier who dies for the glory of the battalion, the athlete who strives against excruciating pain for national pride or the employee who achieves the “ownership mindset” — all need the right chemicals firing in their brain.

A downcast person, far from being productive, even stops caring about his physical well-being. The behaviour of a sad and a depressed person is similar because the same chemicals cause these emotional states. Extrapolating the individual to a family, a company and the nation explains why the state of mind of the nation and its economic recovery are existentially interlinked.

This is a daunting challenge, primarily because mental health has remained largely ignored, though it is the largest national medical burden. The understanding of the subject is so rudimentary that most corporates believe band aids such as yoga, a few counselling sessions or company-sponsored offsites are enough to solve the problem. That’s about as useful as giving an aspirin to an acute heart patient.

This situation, however, presents a unique opportunity for corporate India. Indian corporates have always contributed towards health care in the form of the mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. Apart from hundreds of hospitals run by corporates, many of them have occupied a mindspace in the niches of health. But the mental health space lies open and unoccupied.

There are three categories of stakeholders when it comes to mental health. First, the government — for which it is imperative that the citizen’s morale is uplifted. Second, corporates — whose success depends on the engagement levels of their employees. And finally, the pharma companies, because it is only an optimistic and concerned individual who will care about her own and her family’s health. All pharma companies (not just those who manufacture psychiatric drugs) are, therefore, invested in building a positive mental state among their potential customers.

More Indians, especially the young, will be affected by mental health than any other disease. This is an opportunity for all three stakeholders — for the government to amend CSR rules to channel more resources to mental health; for conglomerates to invest and occupy this mindspace; and for the Indian pharma industry to take a global lead in the domain of preventive interventions.

Most armies of the world follow a version of the British Defence Doctrine that lays down Ten Principles of War, the first of which is “Selection and Maintenance of Aim”. If the national aim is to achieve quick economic recovery, then we need to remember that the second of the Ten Principles is “Maintenance of Morale”, without which no war, including the one against Covid-19, can be won.


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