I’m part of the generation that’s trying to destigmatize mental health. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 264 million people suffer from depression. Many of these people also experience anxiety – and that’s just those who report it. There are probably millions who are trying to act “tough,” like nothing is wrong.
Why do we need to destigmatize?
Mental health challenges can literally kill us. If we’ve broken a bone or have a bad flu, we go to the doctor. Yet, we often overlook the symptoms when our mental health is deteriorating. We let it build up like a cavity until we have to pull it out — or, in this case, pull out of society while we recover. This is because of the social stigma around our mental wellness. We’ve been led to believe that showing stress or anxiety is a sign of weakness that enables people to take advantage of us. So, we bottle it up.
At work, mental health challenges cost US$1 trillion in lost productivity each year. Most of us experienced this at the beginning of the pandemic, when it was often difficult to focus. Working from home wasn’t the problem; it was most likely the stress and anxiety from trying to preserve normalcy during a global pandemic. And by failing to acknowledge this pressure, we adjusted too late. We denied the fact that working from home could become the norm and we needed to provide better resources. By the time many employers accepted the truth, we just wanted to hibernate. The delay cost us hours of productive work time — and for many people, compromised our mental wellness.
By destigmatizing mental health, we encourage people to seek help. This ensures happier people who are more productive members of society and who are capable of helping others. Furthermore, making it a problem that can’t be ignored encourages the government to increase mental health funding and resources.
How can I promote mental health as an employer?
Regardless of whether you work with five or 500 people, there are a number of things you can do to promote and destigmatize mental health at work:
Talk about it. This is so incredibly important and can’t be stressed enough. It actually blows my mind that more people don’t talk about mental health. We call in sick because of the flu. Why can’t we be more transparent about calling in sick when we need a “duvet day” (which is what we used to call a mental health day at one of my previous jobs.)
I fight the stigma by posting weekly about mental health on my LinkedIn profile. The more I’ve posted, the more I’ve had people reach out to me to share their stories. In fact, I’m so grateful for one of my friend groups, because we talk so openly about mental health. We even talk about our experiences with therapists, medications and more.
Show compassion. If you see someone struggling, reach out to them. You don’t even have to ask them to talk. Offer to go for a walk or to grab a tea together. People deal with stress and anxiety in different ways. Some may close off and not want to speak to anyone. Others may need talk therapy. Respect their unique needs.
Set an example. It’s tough for those in more junior positions to talk about their mental health if senior staff are silent on the topic. As a leader, make sure to take all of your vacation days. If you’re feeling mentally unwell, take the day off and share the reason with your team (even in general terms). Be as open and transparent as you can.
Highlight available resources. Compile a collection of mental health resources available to your employees, both internally and in the larger community. For example, the Government of Australia’s Centre for Clinical Intervention has great self-help resources and worksheets you could highlight.
Provide psychological first aid. Most organizations have people appointed and certified for first aid in case someone is injured at work. We need to do the same for mental health. We spend most of our time at work, and a psychological first-aider is certified to identify signs of distress and help individuals without judgement. There are many certification courses available, such as the Workplace Mental Health Leadership Certificate Program. It’s important for employers to cover the costs and to encourage employees to pursue these programs. If you can save someone’s life with CPR, why wouldn’t you want to save someone’s life with some talk therapy?
I look forward to the day when pulling out of sports competitions (go, Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles), calling in sick for work, and cancelling social plans to put your mental health first is encouraged and celebrated. Until that day, we have a lot of talking and education to do.
Join the conversation – and use this post as a starting point. I invite you to share on LinkedIn how your organization encourages employees to talk about mental health and wellness.