How to Reduce Stigma in the Workplace

1 in 4 people aged 18 and older will experience a mental health concern per year. This statistic wavers above and below this number, but the message is the same; if you don’t have a mental illness, you almost definitely know somebody who does.

Schools and colleges are often big advocates for mental health and awareness, but what happens when you leave school and enter the workplace? I have found that companies and employers are rarely as accommodating and open to concessions with deadlines and projects, but it’s inevitable- sometimes, your mental health must take priority over your work.

I’ve witnessed stigma against mental health at almost every single job I’ve ever held, and I make it a point to hold myself accountable to speaking up when I need a day off, or a deadline extension, as well as encouraging others to do the same. A few years ago, I was in a place where I needed some time off to figure some things out, but I was too afraid of the repercussions of asking for time off for my mental health rather than my physical health. I ended up having to call off work several days in a row, and afterwards, my boss told me she would have encouraged me to take that time to myself if I had come to her in the first place – I had underestimated her willingness to support my personal needs.

rawpixel-250087-unsplashHaving experienced it myself with both supportive and unsupportive coworkers and bosses, here are some ways that I’ve learned to reduce stigma and advocate for mental health resources in the workplace!

  • Know your facts. Mental health is still not very well understood in many aspects of society, so knowledge is key to preventing discrimination and identifying and reacting to stigma that you encounter.
  • Watch your words. Well-intentioned language can sometimes be stigmatizing and triggering to others, if you’re not careful. For example, the harmless phrase “I’m so OCD”, when used to describe a person who is not diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, can be triggering to a person who actually does. These over-generalizations can reinforce stigma and myths. Instead, say “I really like my things to be organized- it makes me a more productive worker.”
  • Challenge misconceptions. Speak up if you hear a colleague or coworker using language reinforcing of such stereotypes. Correct terminology is important, and words like “crazy” and “psycho” can make others feel ostracized and ashamed. Be careful not to act defensively or aggressively, just do so in an open manner. It could be something as simple as saying, “You’re not crazy. You just need some time to unwind.”
  • Lead by example. Nobody is perfect, but acknowledge when you make mistakes and encourage others to do the same.

Have you ever encountered stigma against mental health at work? What steps can you take to ensure a safe and open environment for all employees?

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