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Reduce Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace

Mental illness is a growing concern for our society including workplaces. It’s estimated that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces $10.9 billion per year. The cost consists of $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism, and $146 million in compensation claims, according to a PwC and Beyond Blue report. 

One in five people has experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months, which means around 20% of employees are experiencing mental illness. Even if they aren’t experiencing mental illness themselves, they may be supporting a family member or close friend going through it. People in these situations appreciate their employer taking mental health seriously and supporting an employee needing to take sick or carer leave.   

A person with mental health illness should feel supported rather than ashamed. If there is a stigma or little support for mental health, some employees may feel their values don’t match those of the organisation and may leave to find a better work culture.

Stigma Around Mental Health in Workplaces

A stigma around mental health occurs when people have negative attitudes or are misinformed. Their lack of understanding can lead to discrimination against people with mental illness and can turn into prejudice and hurt, which can worsen a person’s mental health. There is also the risk they get drawn to what other people think, which may impact their self-worth, self-esteem, and self-love - essential elements when working towards wellness.   

But the stigma can be turned around. Educating people on mental health and discouraging negative stereotypes can stop the stigma. Colleagues can feel confident talking about their mental health struggles or supporting a family member with a mental illness.

Strategies to Address & Prevent Stigma Around Mental Health

There are several actions organisations can take to prevent and discourage stigma around mental health. Most are low-cost activities that raise awareness and encourage colleagues to start a conversation about mental health.

#1 Events to Raise Awareness

There are a large number of recognised mental health and well-being days that are celebrated in Australia and overseas. Your organisation could pick one or two throughout the year to raise awareness. As part of the day, all employees can be involved by:
  • enjoying a morning tea or lunch
  • wearing a particular colour to work
  • wearing an awareness ribbon
  • sending out general information or having someone tell their story
  • encouraging colleagues to talk about mental health

#2 Encourage Employees to Speak Up

Encourage workers to speak up when they hear colleagues talking poorly about mental illness and using negative stereotypes. Remind your colleague that although it may be hard to understand what people go through, everyone deserves respect and acceptance.

#3 Mental Health Champions

It’s important for employees to feel safe when talking to someone at work if they’re experiencing a problem that is impacting their mental health. Mental health champions are staff members around the organisation trained to offer help and support to their colleagues. They also encourage positive mental health in the organisation and challenge stigma.  

#4 Get the Message Out

Keep mental health front and centre of employees. Include contact details for the EAP online, have posters around the organisation telling employees to speak out if they have a mental health issue, and include safety moments in meetings that discuss physical and mental health.   

#5 Start the Conversation

Encourage staff members to support each other’s mental health and well-being. Check in with colleagues who seem stressed and offer to help with the workload. If a colleague seems withdrawn or worried, ask if everything is ok. If you’re a good listener, mention you are open to being there for them if they ever want to talk. The more mental health is talked about, the less likely a stigma will exist in the workplace.

Reaching Out for Help

If you feel or see that a colleague is being attacked for their mental health situation, take action. Speak to HR or a trusted manager. It should never be acceptable to treat someone differently because of any physical or mental condition.

Mental health can have a far-reaching impact on your daily life. Your professional and personal life can suffer unfairly. Seek support from a professional psychologist through the Employee Assistance Program or make an appointment with your GP.    

As an integrated hub of medical and allied health specialists, we make it easy for organisations to provide expert, holistic well-being support to employees in the workplace. For more information on how we can help you address mental health stigma, contact us online or call 1800 258 487.

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