Breaking Mental Health Stigma in The Workplace

Breaking mental health stigma in the workplace is one of the biggest challenges that HR and People leaders face in supporting teams across the UK. At Hope Health we think it’s about time for a change in the way that many of us think, speak and act on Mental Health challenges – and as we spend so much of our time in the office or in the workplace we think that it's an ideal place to start breaking the stigma of mental health.  Though many of us will experience a mental health condition or concern in our life, the culture around mental wellbeing is severely hush-hush and therefore mental health is frowned upon to speak openly about, creating a negative mental health stigma.

According to Our Time - ‘Culture is also a strong determining factor in motivating or demotivating treatment-seeking behaviour. It can determine whether someone seeks support from families and communities, and how and where they seek help.’

The culture surrounding mental health and mental health stigma has been largely negative until recent years, with more and more people raising awareness for common mental health conditions.

Mental Health Culture

Mental health is often regarded as a hidden or unimportant health matter as people may believe you can’t ‘see it’, like you may see a broken leg or arm. However, others downplay mental health struggles as being a ‘little sad’ or resort to terribly old-fashioned notions of being ‘tough’ and ‘getting over something’ – it’s a sad fact and one that many of us may even be guilty of ourselves – breaking this cycle and thought process has to be the beginning of the journey.

This historic and uninformed attitude alienates those struggling with mental health conditions and mental health stigma can make them feel neglected, ignored, or unimportant in the eyes of those around them.  Worse still, this approach to mental health, even in our enlightened society, means that those experiencing challenges may not reach out for help and cope, or really don’t cope, quietly due to this.

The Centre of Mental Health at Work shows that 15.8 million workdays are lost every year due to mental health struggles and left unsupported many people are likely to find themselves in a worsening situation, so it’s vital that we don’t just break the stigma around mental health, but we really break it wide open. Mental Health First Aid Training is a critical way to help those around you, and whilst it wont make you a therapist or Mental Health practitioner it could genuinely help to save lives, identifying peers, colleagues and friends that are struggling with mental health. There are so many assumptions around mental health but one in particular is that people living with mental health conditions are a danger to themselves or others in terms of injury or sickness, but mental health issues can severely affect lives in many other ways.

Mental Health in the Workplace

The impact of poor mental health, or living with a mental health condition, will not only affect someone’s wellbeing but also their physical health, relationships, ability to work or do things they enjoy. Many issues can arise from this such as lack of socialising, ability to earn money, in essence the ability to have even a half-decent quality of life.

For those living with mental health conditions, sick days may be unthought of due to shame of creating mental health stigma, or embarrassment, why they may take them, or worry that employers will not understand or believe that a sick day is needed. In extreme, but not uncommon, cases, sick days may not be taken due to the fear of disciplinary action or unemployment. Whilst we perhaps associate “sick days” with mental health conditions we may also be unaware that not taking sick days, over working and working through physical illnesses can also be an issue.

How people view others with mental health issues in the workplace can be a  massive cause of mental health stigma and shame for those who live with mental illness. People living with unseen, undiscussed and undiagnosed conditions may not always be able to participate in different aspects of workplace culture and may feel left out or be purposelessly left out due to not being able to be available or, really, well enough to join workplace activities.

It is within the interests of businesses & employers and employees to take mental health concerns seriously and address mental health stigma in the workplace, both for commercial interests and contribution to the larger conversation and movement towards helping de-stigmatisation of mental health.

How workers and businesses are affected

According to Deloitte 28% of people have left their jobs due to mental health issues. This may include people solely personally unable to cope but the larger picture assumes work cultures and understanding of mental health in the workplace may certainly be an important issue to factor. In many businesses Mental Health is still a hidden issue and much like any other illness identifying challenges and seeking advice and support is vital to breaking the stigma around mental health in the workplace.

Unemployment is a large contributing factor to those who develop depression with financial stress also linked to this, with many people already living paycheque to paycheque. The looming burden of knowing that if you take time to treat your mental health would mean you lose an income or the stress of having to work and live sometimes week-to-week, in addition to maintaining a family or home can become overwhelming- with these problems and burden of mental health stigma often leading to the disintegration of someone’s mental health.

Financial issues, such as stressing about maintaining an income or anticipating potential future financial issues may lead people to over-working and therefore burning themselves out, creating further challenges.  A Mental Health First Aider in the workplace is trained to support situations like this and potentially help to stop someone from being overwhelmed or overcome by their struggles and becoming unable to cope with their mental struggles, let alone their work life.

£8 billion is lost by businesses every year due to staff turnover and sick days, much of which is accredited to mental health issues and the lack of workplace support. Statistics such as this prove how essential it is for workplaces to take seriously the health of its employees, for the employees themselves and the business.

How Hope Health Help is helping to break the stigma around mental health?

Mental Health First Aid training aims to improve people’s understanding of mental health and therefore improve their sensitivity and awareness towards people struggling with poor mental health, helping to break the mental health stigma.

It also aims to improve people’s empathy towards mental health issues and their ability to support those struggling with mental health challenges. This is just  one of the ways to break stigma and rebuild a better mental health culture.

People may not be considerate to what they don’t understand, so by opening up conversations around mental health it help those who are and aren’t suffering to better understand what mental health conditions are and what impact they have on real lives.  

Training specifically for the workplace aims to help improve corporate culture and attitudes toward mental health. Commercial too, businesses across the UK could save up to £8 billion annually by providing better mental health support.

Mental health struggles and mental health stigma are not something one chooses to live with, those who are openly or secretly struggling deserve not to be shamed or ridiculed for coping with things they cannot control. Much like none of us choose to pick up the flu or a virus and certainly don’t feel embarrassed should we break a leg or have an accident, mental health is an absolutely normal part of everyday life.

It is essential for us to and better understand what our friends, family, colleagues, or stranger on the bus may be going through and how to best support them when they cannot support themselves.

Taking massive, accountable action is the only way to break the mental health stigma and prove the importance of understanding, empathy, and openness.

Nicole O'Callaghan

MHFA Adult & Youth Instructor BA Honours Business Keynote Speaker (PTSD, Stigma, Suicide, Resilience)
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