In the past, showing emotion at work was seen as a sign of unprofessionalism. In today's workplace, employers have begun to recognize that employees aren't robots; they have feelings too.
The National Institute of Mental Health found that as many as one in five adults experience mental health problems each year, and most of them are employed. While much effort has been made to reduce workplace stigma, it remains a major challenge. Many employees choose to hide it and not seek help due to fear of discrimination in the workplace.
What is stigma?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, stigma often comes from a lack of understanding or fear. Inaccurate or misleading media portrayals contribute to both of those factors. While the public may recognize the medical or genetic origins of a mental health issue and the necessity for treatment, many people still have a negative connotation to those people with mental illness.
What can employers do to reduce mental health stigma in the workplace?
Employers can play a critical role in de-stigmatizing mental illness and cultivating a positive workplace culture. While an increasing number of companies provide assistance to employees with behavioral health issues, it's equally critical to foster workplace environments where people feel comfortable sharing their mental health concerns.
Here are some actionable steps you can take to nurture a positive workplace culture:
1. Lead by example. Talk openly about mental health at work.
As a company leader, you might have been trained not to show feelings during hard times. But this should not be the case. It's ok to share your struggle. By doing that, you are sending a message to your staff that they are free to talk about their own mental health challenges at work, which can help build a deeper connection between you and your employees.
Show employees that their health and wellbeing are important by taking the lead: take that paid time off, and do something self-care-related, such as taking a vacation and spending time with family.
2. Create an environment where employees feel comfortable to ask for help.
Discuss mental health benefits and available mental health care in company-wide meetings or emails. This is a great way to communicate that seeking help is not a luxury or a sign of weakness.
Create a dedicated support group where everyone can share all their struggles and ask for help without fear of being judged. This will help cultivate psychological safety and inclusivity at work.
3. Be conscious of your language when discussing mental health issues.
Words matter; they either can build or tear down a person. Avoid making rude or inappropriate comments regarding mental illness. Calling someone "crazy" or tagging someone as "addict" only reinforces mental health stigma. Instead of labeling them with dehumanizing words, you can refer to them as "persons with substance abuse disorder."
4. Educate yourself and others. Initiate mental health awareness campaigns.
While employers can’t directly treat mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, they can take steps to remove barriers to treatment. Create mental health awareness campaigns or offer training and workshops that educate employees and managers about mental illness and encourage them to seek help.
5. Invest in easily accessible and comprehensive mental health care for employees.
In today's world, physical health care is often prioritized over mental health care. Investing in a genuinely comprehensive mental health benefit that is easily accessible to the employees demonstrates that your company isn't just making a symbolic gesture of support but that you genuinely care. This creates a tangible difference in employees' health and wellbeing.
The stigma surrounding mental health at work is still widespread, but there are ways that employers can encourage their staff to open up and talk about their mental wellbeing and eventually seek help. Employers should also show how serious they are about the employees' overall health by taking the lead.
Employees who are supported at work are more likely to be engaged in their work.