- Elizabeth Butler, B.A, M.A
Overcoming Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace
Generally speaking when we talk about mental health often enough we learn how to deal with the mental health stigma if it happens, however, it is not always easy to talk about a mental illness, particularly in the work place, where one may be reluctant to openly share their experiences with it. A good friend of mine recently took to the Facebook forum to publicly declare her struggle after hiding it for the past few years out of fear that she would be judged or blamed, and even more specifically that her professional competency would be called into question.
Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is outside of their control. Moreover, stigma also prevents people from seeking the help they need, and this is problematic for the obvious fact that people coping with a mental illness are already carrying the heavy burden of pain and suffering. Stigma has been reduced in recent years as mental health awareness grows, however, the pace of progress has not been quick enough. That being said, there are some strategies we can utilize to help de-stigmatize mental illness in the workplace:
Talk openly about mental health and what experiences with it are like. Most people will also open up if they see others doing it, thereby creating a support network within the work environment.
Educate yourself and others and use opportunities to educate others who do not understand mental health. Ignorance only adds to the stigma.
Be aware of words you use and avoid describing mental health conditions in terms of adjectives. Encourage others to do the same and/or explain why certain language terms can be problematic and labelling. For example, using the term “bipolar” to describe someone with extreme mood fluctuations only perpetuates stereotypes and undermines one’s very real struggle with having a mental illness.
Encourage equality and viewing mental illness in the same terms as a physical illness. For example, most people would not make fun of somebody with heart disease or cancer. Our brains can get sick despite our life circumstances and what we may look like on the outside, particularly if we seem to “have it all.”
Show compassion for those with mental illness and model it, in order to inspire others to do the same. For example, often times homelessness can be a consequence of having a mental illness and if we take time to say hello or ask how someone is doing, it reminds us that others who are marginalized or easily forgotten deserve respect and kindness too.
Choose empowerment over shame. If you are living with a mental illness, choose to live an empowered life by owing your “life story” and refusing to allow others to dictate how you view/feel about yourself.
Be honest about treatment. Fight stigma by stating how you are dealing with mental illness. After all, we feel no shame in telling others when we have to see our family physician for physical check-ups, so why should this be any different?
Lastly, don’t harbor self-stigma. Fight stigma by not holding stigmas yourself
Bravery, persistence, and strength are all qualities we need to face and fight both mental illness and fight stigmas. We can all make a collective difference when we understand that mental illness is not anybody’s fault, no matter what societal stigma says. We can make a difference by simply being and living free from mental illness stigmas ourselves.