24th April 2023
Guest Post: Overcoming the Stigma of Poor Mental Health in the Modern Workplace
Workplaces are no longer the same as 10 years ago. Collaboration tools such as Zoom, Asana, and Google Workspace allow employees to work remotely and efficiently. Many companies have also opted for open workspaces to dismantle hierarchies and improve employee productivity and camaraderie.
Much has changed with workplace attitudes as well. A 2022 Gallup study found that 61% of employees value work-life balance and better personal well-being, while 42% seek diversity and inclusion in the workplace. These attitudes have pushed employers to prioritize employee wellness—particularly mental health—in the workplace.
Despite this change, stigma around poor mental health persists in some workplaces due to individual beliefs and specific work structures. This article will discuss how you can create a safe workplace for all your employees.
Forms of Mental Illness Stigma
The National Academy of Medicine cited three primary forms of stigma and their harmful effects:
Self-stigma happens when people with poor mental health feel ashamed of themselves. They often feel worthless, unlovable, and inferior because of their condition. People with self-stigma cannot move forward with their careers, relationships, and overall health because of these negative beliefs. They also exhibit low self-worth and self-esteem and detract from self-efficacy.
- Public or social stigma
Public stigma occurs when society shows negative attitudes or discriminates against people with poor mental health or underplays the impact poor mental health can have on an individual. These prejudices cause people with mental illness to internalize negative beliefs and delay or forgo treatment or asking for the support they need.
- Structural stigma
Structural stigma happens when cultures, laws, and institutional policies hinder people from proper treatment and livelihood opportunities due to poor mental health. Workplace discrimination falls under this type of stigma. Examples include discrediting employees for work, preventing them from seeking professional help, and enabling other employees to ostracize them.
7 Ways to Eliminate Mental Illness Stigma in the Workplace
Companies risk losing their employees or worsening their condition if they continue to enable discrimination against mental illness in the workplace. Here is a wellness guide to mental health in the workplace if you want to retain your employees and make them feel safe and heard.
- Use appropriate language
Teach employees to avoid using derogatory terms and outline what inappropriate language is. Educate them about the harm of using mental health disorders to describe others or their feelings, like “He was such a schizo today”These comments downplay and can worsen the mental and emotional well-being of employees with mental illness.
- Offer flexible work arrangements
Mental illnesses are invisible but still affect the body in many ways. For instance, when triggered, people with anxiety disorders experience physical symptoms such as rapid breathing, lightheadedness, and abdominal pain.Flexible arrangements such as remote or hybrid work, condensed work weeks, or customized work hours can help employee wellbeing. It can also help them allot time for treatment while fulfilling their job responsibilities.Consider offering paid mental health days or increasing sick leave credits to ensure employees prioritize their wellbeing and return to work well and refreshed.
- Provide mental health literacy training
People have internalised beliefs about mental health due to their upbringing and environment. While those factors are out of your control, you can at least educate them through mental health literacy training and outline unacceptable behaviours. This initiative should be open to all employees and taught by mental health professionals.
- Encourage leaders to prioritize their own mental health
It’s your responsibility as a business leader to promote a culture of empathy and inclusion in the workplace.As such, initiate mental health initiatives, improve work policies, watch out for behavioral health issues, and manage workloads to help employees achieve work-life balance and make them feel seen and heard.You can also share your mental health struggles to assure employees suffering with poor mental health that they are not alone.Lastly, remember that every employee come with unique needs and work expectations. You should consistently create a psychologically safe space for them.
- Promote open communication
Schedule weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with employees where they can freely share their work experiences, challenges, and personal concerns. Ask specific questions and listen intently to assure them that your organization’s priority is employee well-being.You can also send out a company-wide survey if employees are hesitant to open up in person. Ensure that answers are confidential, so they feel safe to share their honest thoughts and emotions.
- Implement proactive measures
As healthcare professionals always say: prevention is better than cure. Ensure employees have 24/7 access to resources and programs to help them deal with triggers or prevent emotional buildups that can worsen poorly impact their mental health.Encourage managers to use supportive language and provide helpful feedback, so employees know how to work better. Encourage employees to implement set self-care practices and healthy boundaries to help advance the company’s mental health efforts.
- Employ employee wellness solutions
Using wellness apps can supplement mental health-related programs requiring a lot of time and effort. Recommend to employees Headspace for daily meditation, Moodfit for mood tracking and management, or Talkspace for online therapy.Other wellness solutions such as Modern Health, Hero, and The Pip can help you track and understand employee well-being.
Treat Everyone with Kindness and Compassion
Companies are responsible for creating a psychologically safe workplace and inclusive culture to make employees feel secure and motivated at work. Follow the tips above to reduce or eliminate mental illness stigma in your organization and train employees to empathize with and respect their colleagues.
About the Author
Jeffrey is a writer by profession and an artist at heart. He is currently a content strategist and consultant for Shegerian & Associates and aims to make employee rights information more accessible. When he’s not writing, Jeff can be found working on abstract pieces in his art room.