Tag Archives: Stigma

3-ways-to-break the-stigma-at-work

3 Ways To Break The Stigma Around Mental Health At Work

Mental health issues are a common problem facing Australians, and the related statistics are telling:

  • Currently, about 450 million people around the world are living with some kind of mental disorder.
  • According to the World Health Organisation, about 25% of the global population will experience a mental disorder at least once in their lifetime.
  • In Australia alone, about 1 out of every 5 of us will experience mental ill-health every year.
  • Mental health problems hold the dubious honor of being the third leading cause of disability within the Australian labour force.
  • It’s been estimated that Australian businesses lose more than $6.5 billion every year by not providing early intervention and treatment for their employees who are experiencing mental health issues.
  • However, despite evidence showing just how common this condition is, it’s been estimated that up to two thirds of people with a known mental health condition choose not to seek professional help.

3-ways-to-break the-stigma-at-workWhy is this so?

Access to care, language barriers, and a dearth of quality resources are a few reasons why, but perhaps the most insidious reason is stigma.

Mental Health Stigma Exists — and it Doesn’t Necessarily Stop at the Workplace

Stigma has a powerful influence in the world of mental health issues. Society at large often views people living with mental disorders as unstable, dangerous, or even violent. People with mental health challenges are often believed to be incapable of leading productive and fulfilling lives—indeed, sufferers themselves may even believe this. Research doesn’t tend to support these assumptions, but media and cultural expectations often bolster them, anyway.

These assumptions—real or imagined—can discourage people living with mental ill-health to seek much needed treatment. Their condition may make them feel ashamed, weak, and alone, which of course only compounds their mental health issue and propagates a vicious feed-forward cycle of stress, isolation, and illness.

Mental Health Issues on the Job

If we agree that stigma about mental health is virtually ubiquitous, then it becomes clear how this same stigma can exist in the workplace, too. Specifically, both employers and employees may assume a mental health problem will render a person less productive, less organized, and less able to focus on their tasks at hand. Of course, in some cases this can actually hold true, especially if an individual hasn’t sought treatment for their underlying disorder.

Many workplace team members living with a mental health issue choose to hide their issues. They often fear for their job security or are afraid to risk “losing face” in front of their bosses, colleagues, and customers. On their end, employers may not have the tools and tactics to talk to their employees about their suffering. Indeed, an employer may not even be aware that one of his or her team members is suffering from a mental health issue in the first place (unlike a broken ankle or other physical ailment, mental health conditions are often “invisible” and difficult to recognise).

Are you a psychologically safe manager? Take the self assessment to find out.

It’s worth pausing here to reflect on something: mental health problems are common problems. It’s unfortunate that so many people grappling with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues believe that they have to face their challenges alone. Fortunately, leaders in business organisations are in a unique position to change the way their individual companies approach and accommodate mental health, which can have a profoundly positive impact on the issue of mental health as a whole.

3 Ways to Reduce Stigma Associated with Workplace Mental Health Issues

A workplace culture that stigmatises against workplace mental health issues can be detrimental to both individuals within a company and to the company as a whole. Breaking through this stigma can be extremely difficult. Here are 3 ways to get started:

  1. Educate at all levels.

From senior executives to entry-level team members, everyone in your company can benefit from learning more about mental health. Consider sending out company-wide memos, holding in-services, inviting guest speakers, or even running annual events such as “Mental Health Month” as a way to disseminate information and reduce the fear, stigma, and mystery surrounding mental health.

  1. Ensure everyone on your team has access to help.

Work with your HR team or consultants to raise awareness about policies and programs designed to support both physical and mental health. Use discretion and show that you respect your employees’ privacy.

  1. Make your anti-discrimination policies clear.

As a manager, it’s in your best interest to show your employees that they will not be discriminated against due to a mental health issue. Lead by example. Show that by acknowledging and seeking help for a health issue, a person can become an even more valuable employee at your company, rather than a liability.

To your mental health,

– Peter Diaz

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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Addressing Stigma

How can I address stigma in the workplace about mental health?

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.

Addressing StigmaBUT, 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.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Peter Diaz on:
Peter Diaz on Google Plus Peter Diaz on Face Book Peter Diaz on LinkedIn Twitter-logo

canary-in-coal-mine

Building a Mentally Healthy Workplace: 1st Pillar

I’m guessing that you are probably a manager and that you don’t need much convincing that working in a mentally healthy place is imperative. And you would also agree that managing mental health issues at work can be tricky.

I agree! That’s why today I want to share with you one of The 7 Pillars for a Mentally Healthy Workplace. The 7 Pillars model is a simple but powerful guide to show you what to change and how in order to create a mentally healthy workplace

The 7 Pillars are core principles that need to underpin everything you do as a leader. If you really take this on board and really follow it, this will improve your practice as a manager, and it will save you time and energy managing mental health issues at work. These principles have been distilled from the extensive and rich qualitative and quantitative research conducted since the 1970’s that highlights what really works for people recovering from mental health problems.

I’ll start with pillar number 1 – “Us, not you.”

This principle helps you take your organisation or your team from stigma to unconditional positive regard for the person. What does it mean? In today’s workplaces, research shows that people are afraid to come out and tell their managers they are experiencing mental distress. Why? Because they feel it will hurt their careers. That’s what stigma is – discrimination because of a mental health problem. These beliefs run deep and create a lack of trust between management and staff. We need a paradigm shift. A shift of perspective that helps turn the problem into a competitive advantage. But how do we do that? We create and promote Unconditional Positive Regard.

But what does an organisation with Unconditional Positive Regard look like? It’s one where people are convinced that you value and appreciate them as a contributing member in spite of mental health challenges and, at times, because of having experienced mental health problems. Now, that sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? How does that even work?

canary-in-coal-mine

(image credit: US State Dept./Doug Thompson)

Let me illustrate – In days gone by, miners used to take a little canary into the mine. You know why they used to do that?

Because in the mines there are dangerous gases that can come up, toxic gases. So miners used to take a canary because the canary, being a more sensitive animal, would start feeling sick, unwell before anyone else would…so they would watch the canary and if the canary started feeling unwell, what do you think they did? Well, I can tell you what they didn’t do. They didn’t say: “Don’t worry about it. He’s faking it! I’m sure he’s faking it.” “He’s not pulling his weight, is he?” No, they didn’t, did they? They got out of that mine immediately! They took care of the canary. They understood that the canary had a more sensitive nature. But they knew that that sensitivity itself IS the strength of the canary! That’s what made the canary such a good and valuable member of the team, didn’t it? You get it? So then going, “He’s faking it. Don’t worry about it. Let’s keep him out of the group.” “I am so busy, I don’t have time for this! This is most inconvenient, we’re producing so well, and now he goes crazy, this canary…” it’s not going to work!

So maybe there’s room for us to change, to revolutionize how we look at mental health and start thinking, “Is there something that we can learn together from this member of our team that seems to be in a more sensitive space at the moment?” Almost like a canary’s space. What are the toxic fumes that can possibly be in this team that no one else seems to have picked up yet, but that everyone is breathing? … It’s a more useful approach, isn’t it? So that’s what this first principle is about – “Us, not You”, acknowledging that we are in this together. To really start thinking and breathing as a team, “Hang on. One of our members is not well. That member is actually expressing what quite a few members in the team are not expressing.” And this is what the first Pillar is about: it’s not Your problem, but OUR problem, OUR opportunity.

So how do we put this into action at work? Well, ask yourself: do people feel safe to disclose to their manager when they are experiencing a mental health problem? Do your leaders know how to address stigma and discrimination when it arises at work? Do you have initiatives to support mental health for ALL employees, not just those who are having a mental health problem. Are reasonable adjustments (or flexible arrangements) accessible to ALL employees? These are some starting points to ensure Pillar 1 ‘Us not Them’ is upheld.

Till next time, take care of each other.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Peter Diaz on:
Peter Diaz on Google Plus Peter Diaz on Face Book Peter Diaz on LinkedIn