Banishing the stigma

A poll from Alexandria, VA-based Mental Health America found that a major roadblock for people suffering from depression is the stigma attached to mental health conditions. More than half of workers polled said they were concerned about their employer or co-workers finding out about their illness, and approximately 80 percent felt shame about the stigmas associated with their diagnosis.

Clare Miller, director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health in Arlington, VA, said although awareness about depression and other mental health conditions is increasing among the general population, strangely, so is the stigma associated with these conditions. “People understand more about the illnesses themselves. However, with that, these very specific markers that we use to measure the stigma – ‘How would you feel about working with someone, how would you feel about being a neighbor of someone with a mental health condition?’ – those markers have gotten worse. So unfortunately with our understanding of the conditions, stigma has actually worsened.”

She believes one major reason for the increasing stigma of mental health conditions is media sensationalism. Generally, the only times people with mental health problems make the news is in connection with some major tragedy or act of violence.

“People with mental health conditions are actually more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate violence,” Miller said. “The conditions wherein someone with a mental health condition is violent is almost always either because of a substance abuse disorder or a mental health disorder that is not being treated. So when someone is treated, the violence concern really goes away.”

To help create a work environment that is mentally healthy, MHA suggests supervisors take the following steps:

  • Educate. Employees and managers at all levels should learn about mental health illnesses, what benefits are available and how to access them.
  • Watch your language. Do not allow people to use derogatory labels such as “nuts” or “crazy.” Use people-first language, such as “a person with schizophrenia” rather than “a schizophrenic.”
  • Encourage dialogue. Talking candidly about mental health can set a positive tone in the workplace. Create a safe environment that encourages workers to talk about stress, family commitments and workloads. Send a clear message to employees that mental health conditions are real and treatable.
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Invest in mental health benefits, including prevention and education programs. Make sure treatment services are available through your organization’s network of providers.

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