How to break the stigma around mental illness in the workplace

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How to break the stigma around mental illness in the workplace

More than 70% of people with mental illness actively hide their mental illness from others, with many of those doing so out of fear of discrimination when looking for or keeping a job, according to a 2018 report by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH).

Although mental illness is experienced to some degree by a significant proportion of the global workforce, the reason behind keeping it concealed is largely that it is still often seen as a taboo issue – one that is avoided and ignored in many cases rather than understood and accepted.

Stigma, discrimination and workplace equality

Despite the efforts of governments worldwide to correct the mental illness disadvantage, stigma and lack of awareness surrounding mental health issues continue to be barriers to workplace equality.

In its report, the WFMH found in a survey of 500 UK employers that 44% thought employees ‘suffering from stress are able to work effectively at all time points’ and 42% thought workplace policies for mental health/stress were designed simply to avoid litigation. This lack of awareness can not only lead to unhealthy workplaces and workplace inequality, but also workplace cultures where staff lack an understanding of how to help and support their colleagues when they experience a mental health issue.

Understanding and accepting mental health issues as a part of day-to-day life – as workplaces largely do with physical health issues – is the first step in breaking the stigma around mental illness in the workplace and fostering supportive and inclusive work environments.

Intervention strategies to break the stigma around mental illness in the workplace

The WFMH suggests there is growing evidence of the effectiveness of workplace interventions to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and improve mental health and productivity in the workplace. There is also evidence to suggest that workplace interventions focusing on prevention and treatment of mental health issues can be cost-effective for both employers and society as a whole. Even when employers’ financial costs of evaluating and treating employees with mental health issues are considered, interventions for treatment and prevention will still save employers – as well as society as a whole – a great deal of costs in the long-run.

There are a variety of ways workplaces can raise awareness of mental health issues and implement appropriate treatment and prevention strategies. According to the WFMH, evidence has shown that positive workplace cultures with managers who actively support employees with mental health issues are linked to greater openness and mental health awareness – which in turn leads to a more productive workforce.

A commitment to breaking the stigma around mental illness in the workplace needs to start from the top – top-level decision-makers need to invest in and implement policies and procedures that provide training and support for employees and managers in understanding and appropriately dealing with mental health issues.

Want to find out more about how you can help to break the stigma around mental illness? TrainSmart Australia will be holding a range of workshops in Perth in October dealing with mental health. A Registered Training Organisation (RTO) providing nationally-recognised vocational training, TrainSmart Australia also offers a CHC53315 Diploma of Mental Health, CHC51015 Diploma of Counselling and a CHC52015 Diploma of Community Services that can help you gain a deeper understanding of mental health issues and provide appropriate support to those in need.

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