According to the studies, 9 out of 10 people experience some kind of discrimination in relation to mental health, and one in 10 employees have resigned as a result of feeling unsupported with a mental health condition.
Many people think that the key to addressing stigma about mental health is to run some awareness campaigns – put on a morning tea, maybe put some posters up, get people talking about mental health. And to a degree, that’s right. It is a good idea to raise awareness about mental health, start to make it OK to have a conversation about it.
BUT, in our experience training hundreds of organisations around Australia, those workplaces where stigma exists need a lot more than just some ‘awareness’ activities.
In these environments, if awareness activities are run without a proper educational program to support it, or a longer term action plan in place, they can often be ridiculed, resulting in the completely opposite effect than what was intended in the first place! The well meaning HR Manager has put a lot of effort into this activity, but it doesn’t have the desired effect long term.
And then there’s the education itself. Training needs to be more than just providing information about mental health, it needs to be designed and delivered in such a way that it actually shifts attitudes. It must touch the individual people in the room, as human beings not just as their job title. It has to move them to build empathy for their colleagues, and help them to face their fears in talking about mental health.
After all, the majority of people who are stigmatising or making jokes about people with mental health issues, do so because they are uncomfortable with the topic themselves. Maybe they have had their own experiences themselves, or been through something with a friend or family member. Whatever the case is, the person stigmatizing is usually not a bad person, they wouldn’t mean to hurt someone else, they’re just struggling with how to respond emotionally. And when you have someone who is socially influential who is in that space, its not long before other colleagues follow suit and before you know it the workplace environment is one where people do not feel safe to reach out for help. And when that happens, people bottle it up, don’t get help, and often there can be very dire, sometimes fatal consequences.
We’ve been to workplaces like this where it is only after someone has taken their life that colleagues respond with ‘I never saw it coming’.
And this is just one of the reasons why we strongly encourage workplaces who have this problem to make sure they couple their ‘awareness campaign’ with some solid, transformational education, over a period of time. You are looking to change culture after all, and that takes a series of consistent actions over time.