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Walking towards hope

R Sriram Srinivas, who has multiple disabilities—mental retardation and spastic diplegia—takes a breather during his yoga session at home. P Settu, his yoga therapist, who has been teaching Sriram two years now, says that Sriram used to be inattentive and restless, but now follows instructions well and has mellowed down significantly.  

 

 

Images and text by Naveen P M

Walking towards hope (2/9)

M Vanitha, Sriram's teacher, helps Sriram wear his dance apparel before the start of the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' at Don Guanella Special School in Chennai. Due to Sriram's condition, simple tasks such as putting on clothes can become a chore and he often ends up needing some assistance. 

 

Walking towards hope (3/9)

Sriram rides his bicycle—fitted with a custom-made backrest—flanked by special education teacher, G V Arumugam. Arumugam has known Sriram for 15 years and was initially hired to teach him basic reading and writing skills. On Sriram's parents' request, he started to assist Sriram in walking and then taught him how to ride a bicycle so he could improve his muscle tone. 

Read Sriram's story here

 

Walking towards hope (4/9)

R Devi helps Sriram read a clock at Sai Sri Ram Training Centre. Sriram has difficulty reading and writing even basic words, and has a hard time grasping universal concepts such as time, date, and money. Devi is Sriram's favorite teacher. Sai Sri Ram Training Centre has eight students with special needs, two teachers, and a domestic help. The school functions from 10 am to 3 pm and keeps the students busy with a plethora of activities such as coloring, computer games, and yoga.

 

Walking towards hope (5/9)

M R Karthik, physical trainer, subjects Sriram to one of the many "balancing exercises" to improve his balance and correct his "scissor gait". Karthik has been training Sriram for the last two years. "In the beginning, Sriram could hardly stand for a minute on his own and displayed a lot of traits commonly seen in persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), such as lack of eye contact, droning, drooling...," says Karthik.

Read Sriram's story here

 

Walking towards hope (6/9)

Sriram and his classmates from Sai Sri Ram Training Centre perform to a medley of Bollywood songs at the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' held in Don Guanella Special School, Chennai. P Dharani Kumar, a professional choreographer, composed the dance moves for this performance. He visits the school every weekend to teach dance to these students. "Sriram usually has trouble recollecting and executing my dance moves but he stepped his game up through some spontaneous moves," he said. 

Read Sriram's story here

Walking towards hope (7/9)

Sriram is ecstatic after receiving a silver medal for the Standing Long Jump event. His driver, D Alvin (right), and Sriram's mother, R Vanitha, gather around to congratulate him, at the Special Olympics Sports Meet held on YMCA Grounds, Chennai. Sriram shares a special bond with Alvin and the two can often be seen engaging in healthy banter. 

 

Walking towards hope (8/9)

Sriram does a lap of backstroke at The League Club, Chennai. His parents introduced him to swimming at the age of seven after a doctor suggested hydropathy as treatment. Sriram has been training under U Sathish Kumar, swim coach for children with special needs, for one year now. Sriram won four gold medals in as many events at two swim meets for para-athletes held last year in Tamil Nadu.

 

Walking towards hope (9/9)

Dr J Paul Devasagayam, Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat, Tamil Nadu, reviews Sriram Srinivas's progress with his mother, R Vanitha, during one of their monthly meetings at his 100-square-foot office in Purasawalkam, Chennai.

 

Workplace mental health: Should a manager or colleague reach out to a distressed employee?

Any sudden changes in behavior or work might be an indication of emotional distress.
Lalithashree Ganesh

Do you remember noticing sudden changes in a colleague's behavior at any time? Someone who was going about their work in an organized manner suddenly becoming distressed and unable to focus on work? Or a colleague who skipped work frequently, or one who talked about self harm?

Chances are, these sudden changes in behavior are an indicator of some sort of emotional distress or mental illness. And a person who is distressed may not reach out and ask anyone for help. As a manager or a colleague, the first step you can take to help is to approach them and offer a listening ear.

The signs are always there, although they may not be obvious at first. However, as a manager or a colleague, you can make a difference by taking notice and reaching out. 

When should you reach out?

As a manager or colleague, you can consider reaching out when the person:

  • Has increased and unexplained absenteeism
  • Is at work but is unable to focus or perform
  • Shows a sudden lack of care for physical appearance or lack of hygiene
  • Seems distracted or lost often
  • Mumbles to themselves often 
  • Talks of self-harm
  • Paces up and down
  • Seems preoccupied
  • Has low energy when compared to their energy levels from before 
  • Shows signs of aggression

If you notice any of the above signs in your colleague for a considerable amount of time (at least two weeks), it may be time to reach out. If you are a manager, you may reach out if you notice consistent low productivity, increased tardiness or increased aggression.

With a supportive, empathetic, helpful, non-judgemental and non-threatening attitude when you reach out, you can immediately put them at ease and allow them to share their story. Let them know you are available to listen without judging their words or their body language when they communicate. While there is no set rule of communication in such circumstances, genuine concern and unconditional acceptance are most essential. For instance, you could approach your distressed colleague in such a manner:

"Hi ___________, how are you doing? I get a sense that something may be disturbing you. I am concerned about you and I just want to let you know that I am totally available if you would like to talk. I would love to help in any way I can. 

I may not have any answers for you, but sometimes it is helpful just to be able to talk to someone so I would be more than happy to do so. I know how hard it is to find someone one can trust to talk to, so if you feel comfortable I would be happy to be that person." 

A little bit of self-disclosure may help the person open up too. Sharing a similar experience you had, or talking about a difficult situation you faced and came out of will reassure the person and build a sense of trust. This would also help the person speak without the fear of being judged.

Nevertheless, make sure you don't put them down at any point in time or take the conversation over and make it all about yourself and your problems. Don't make them feel bad or weak about feeling a certain way, and don't tell them to get a hold of themselves and get on with life. Avoid saying things like, "Come on, don't be like this. All this is part of life, so just cheer up!" Or "I'm tired of your behavior. Just stop thinking about it and move on with life." Or "Stop crying. I think you are overdoing it. Don't be a weakling."  Such statements can only make things worse for the person.

Can your organization help a distressed employee?
As a colleague, you could direct them to reach out to your organization's EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), a service that organizations make available to all their employees in order to help them deal with some of the emotional and logistical challenges of life. 

Some EAPs give employees and their family members free access to short-term solution-focused mental health support, as well as support for information around various daily living and work life challenges. 

All these services guarantee confidentiality, except in the cases of a risk of harm to oneself or others. Employees need not fear disclosure to their organizations or their managers. And they may reach out and access these services for any kind of distress they face, whether related to their work life or their personal life. 

My organization does not have an EAP. What should I do?
Managers can refer their employees to a counseling agency or a counseling psychologist. This would usually be at the employees' own cost. Another thing every colleague can do is take a proactive stance by offering unconditional and non-judgemental support. You may also offer to accompany a distressed colleague to the psychologist in case they are hesitant or unable to go alone. 

Additionally, you may suggest that your colleague call a helpline.

 


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