Whilst conversation continues to expand as regards workplace mental health, can we confidently say that it is helping to destigamtize the topic ? Can we say that we are we now feeling comfortable in admitting mental health problems ? Both in general and to our colleagues and employers ?
In the current climate workplace mental health is top focus for many companies. Seen as an essential business activity, especially at a time when the battle for talent is getting tougher. Companies are showing new understanding that managing psychological threats is as important as managing physical threats to an employees health. With both responsibilities usually sitting under the domain of the Health and Safety Manager.
What is Mental Health Stigma ?
At a time when people are at their most vulnerable and in need of help, the surrounding stigma prevents them from reaching out. This paradox can deepen the illness and compound issues.
One of the most common mental health stigmas is that mental health problems are not common. Or that those struggling simply need to “try harder”. In truth, a survey in the USA showed that 1 in 5 employees will experience mental health challenges in a year. Of those, only 1 in 3 will seek treatment, further contributing to their issues.
By reducing stigma and increasing support employers can mitigate the human and economic costs of workplace mental illnesses.
Does Mental Health Stigma still Exist ?
Many would argue that the stigma surrounding mental ill-health still persists, and to a greater rather than lesser degree. Indeed few employees would state that their workplace is free from stigma on mental health illnesses.
Companies must work harder to become a part of the solution and create open dialogue. This post pandemic era allows companies a unique opportunity to address the mistakes of the past and replace negative attitudes and discriminatory policies with ones that will improve the well being of employees.
What is the Impact of Mental Health Stigma ?
‘Stigma” is defined as prejudice or discrimination. Because of stigma, mental health conditions are often viewed and treated differently from other conditions. There are three primary forms of stigma, each of which can have harmful, far reaching effects:
Self Stigma – When a person internalizes and accepts the negatives
Public or Social Stigma – An environment is which those with mental health conditions are discredited, isolated and viewed differently
Structural or Workplace Stigma – Institutional practices eg. mental health policies not being level with physical health ones
The impact of stigma can be profound. Creating a cloud of shame and uncertainty that obscures a clear path to recovery. Many employees with a mental health condition avoid treatment because they don’t want people finding out about their illness.
How is Workplace Mental Health Stigma Harmful ?
Mental health stigma can lead to:
- A reluctance from the individual to seek treatment
- Fewer opportunities at work for them
- Increased or worsened symptoms and stresses
- Lack of understanding by colleagues and employers
Companies who are serious about protecting and supporting employees’ mental health must work to lessen mental health stigma within their workplace.
How Can a Company Work to Shift the Perception of Mental Illness ?
Companies can change the misperception that a mental health condition is a moral failing. Re-enforce the fact that these conditions are treatable diseases, like any other medical condition. Train managers to recognize signs of distress so they are educated to understand mental health issues, spot problems early and connect colleagues with appropriate support. Tangible assistance can reduce the stigma that may inhibit employees from asking for help.
How to Eliminate Discriminatory Behaviour
Mental health conditions should be treated with the same urgency and compassion as any other medical condition.
Policies and practices should create a culture free from discrimination. Prioritize employee mental wellness as critical for company peak performance.
How can Employers Combat Mental Health Stigma ?
Normalize mental health days – One of the most common stigmas is that having a problem is a cause for shame or a sign of weakness. Providing personal time off days and actively encouraging employees to use them for mental health is an excellent first step
Offer mental health support services – Such as an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)
Encourage regular employee check-ins – Of paramount importance in the world of remote work. Discuss workloads and share concerns
Provide training for managers and supervisors – To allow them to recognize signs of stress or overwork
Share resources and information – The more people know about mental health, the less inaccuracies and stigmas will persist
Encourage work-life balance – To support employee mental health
Watch your language – The way we talk about mental health is changing, therefore the proper language should be used within the workplace
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