How to challenge the stigma of mental ill health in the workplace
Stigma occurs as a result of fear, stereotypes and negative perceptions. It is often associated with mental health conditions. Stigma can occur both externally and internally (self-stigma). It can be a barrier to seeking help. It >can prevent employees from talking about their mental health at work, for fear of being judged. This means that people are often not getting the help and support they need.
Self-stigma exists when people with mental illness internalise the negative stereotypes and opinions. These negative perceptions can lead to self-blame and low self-esteem. It can also lead to assuming others will judge them negatively.
It is important to address all kinds of stigma in your workplace so that people do not experience the stigma they fear.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate directly or indirectly against people with mental health problems in public services and functions, access to premises, work, education, associations and transport.
Strategies to help break down the stigma around mental ill-health
- Set the scene right from the start. The more openly you are talking about mental health, the more it helps to break down stigma. For example, make it easy for people to raise their mental health difficulties at recruitment and interview stage without fear of being penalised. Offer helpful adjustments for people suffering from anxiety during the interview process.
- Talk about it at induction. Give information about the help available and initiatives that support mental wellbeing. Senior managers being open about their mental health difficulties is a powerful way of helping to address stigma.
- Train line managers to have the skills and confidence to recognise, understand and support their young employees experiencing mental health difficulties. Beliefs (conscious and unconscious) will influence how line managers (and colleagues) understand and support employees. Make sure you address these.
- Recognise that it takes courage to talk about mental health difficulties. This may impact on the ability and willingness of employees to seek support at the earliest opportunity, rather than leaving it until it becomes a crisis. Acknowledge this, recognising the role self-stigma and previous experience may be playing here.
- Promote a whole organisation approach to positive wellbeing. Create a mentally healthy working environment where everyone feels safe talking about their mental health when they start to struggle. This means making mental health everybody’s concern and including it in all areas of the organisation. Senior leader commitment to staff mental wellbeing and providing adequate resources is essential to this.
- Provide mental health awareness training for all employees. The more people learn about it and the more they talk about it, the easier it is to address and break down the stigma. No one is exempt. Everyone has a story to tell.
- Have transparent sickness absence policies that treat mental ill health the same as physical ill health. Make sure that your graduate employees understand this and are aware of the support and help that can be given them. Give a clear message that early intervention is far better than risking a crisis.
It is essential to be congruent when addressing the stigma around mental ill health in the workplace. Make sure the positive messages are consistent with actions. The more you know and understand mental ill health, including diagnosed conditions such as bi-polar affective disorder, and can demonstrate this, the easier it will be for people to come forward without the shame and fear that stigma generates.
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