See Change Ireland Ambassador Adrian Yeates discusses how to reduce mental health stigma in the workplace
Each year See Change Ireland (The National Mental Health Stigma Reduction Partnership) rolls out a month-long Green Ribbon Campaign to get as many people as possible talking about mental health to help end stigma and discrimination. By wearing the Green Ribbon – an international symbol for mental health awareness – you show you are committed to influencing positive change.
The advent of Covid-19 has been a massive disruptor in the lives of people all over the world. In Ireland, the changing levels and associated restrictions are putting a major stress on businesses and individuals alike. Though we hear sayings like “Change is the only constant” and “This too will pass”, the reality is that many of us find it very difficult to adjust to the uncertainty created by Covid. This is especially prevalent in the workplace, where we spend so much of our time, earn our living, interact on a complex social level and indeed find our purpose. The result is an increase in anxiety levels, isolation and absenteeism.
Employers and employees are struggling with closures, layoffs or reconfiguring the “workplace” to be remote, physical (but meeting Covid requirements) or a blend of both. Under the pressure to create these alternative arrangements, too much focus can be placed on the practical aspects of the change (e.g. laptops, computers and broadband) thereby missing the importance of the human side of change. As such, we all need to become more aware of how these changes affect us and our colleagues. Management and staff need to work together to create an environment where everyone feels they can seek help if they are not feeling OK, i.e. free of stigma.
Mental health stigma has been described as a sign of disgrace which negatively distinguishes one person from another and is rooted in everyday language. The language that is commonly used about mental health can create a barrier that prevents people truly understanding and helping others. Although the use of words such as ‘crazy’, ‘nuts’ or ‘psycho’ may seem trivial and innocent, these words are the building blocks of stigma and can lead someone to conceal their difficulty or their need for support which creates a barrier to the recovery process. The fundamental message of Green Ribbon is to start conversations which will bring mental health into the light and thereby neutralise the stigma and prejudice that comes from a lack of knowledge and negative attitudes.
In my own case, without doubt, the most difficult aspect of my illness was the fear of other people finding out that I had mental health problems. I felt that I was a damaged or incomplete person and that they would judge me harshly. So, in the early years of my illness, my struggles were compounded by the need to mask my pain and distress.
Nowadays, I am comfortable with who I am and manage my illness in a positive way. As a See Change Ambassador, I have visited many organisations to support their wellbeing initiatives towards creating a caring environment for their employees. Through these talks, attendees really relate to my personal experience of anxiety and depression, and how these setbacks can be successfully managed. As such, I believe they are more open to starting conversations about mental health. Sharing practical tips around self-awareness and that of colleagues, helps to ensure that people are more empowered to ask for, or offer, help to each other. Mental health is a daily consideration, and Green Ribbon offers organisations a powerful platform to launch, or develop, the cultural changes required to ensure all employees can give their whole selves to their work.
In summary, some practical things organisations can do to challenge Stigma include;
Education: Encourage people to find out about the lived experience of mental health conditions and the recovery process
Recognition: Listen to and recognise the contribution of people with mental health conditions
Challenge: Engage with stigma and discrimination when you hear or see it and challenge perceptions
Language: Consider the language used and how a simple change will show your openness and acceptance
Encourage: conversation with friends, family members or work colleagues about mental health.