Mental health stigma is a common issue that affects millions of individuals who live with mental health challenges. It can take many forms and involve negative attitudes and beliefs about mental health, leading to harmful consequences such as social isolation, reluctance to seek treatment, and strained relationships with friends and family. In the workplace, mental health stigma can lead to a lack of inclusivity in the work environment and contribute to organizational mental health inequities. This article examines the different types and sources of stigma, its impacts, and actionable steps that can be taken to reduce its harm in the workplace.
Types of Stigma
Researchers have identified three different types of mental health stigma: public stigma, self-stigma, and institutional stigma. Public stigma involves negative attitudes and discriminatory behavior that the public has about mental health. Self-stigma, on the other hand, refers to negative attitudes and internalized shame that people with mental health challenges have about themselves. Institutional stigma involves government and private organizations intentionally or unintentionally limiting opportunities for people with mental health challenges.
Sources of Stigma
Stigma often arises due to a general lack of understanding or fear of mental health challenges. Negative media portrayal of mental health, mental health systems that encourage segregation of people facing serious mental health challenges, community rules for socially acceptable behavior, and general intolerance are all societal and cultural factors that feed into public and institutional stigma. People who live with mental health challenges can experience the internalization of negative messages about mental health, often leading to self-stigma.
Impacts of Stigma
Stigma affects individuals with mental health challenges and the loved ones who support them, and the consequences can be severe. In the workplace, stigma can lead to fear, anger, and intolerance toward people and mental health services. Harmful effects of stigma include reluctance to seek treatment or remain in treatment, delayed treatment, social isolation, lowered psychological well-being, strained relationships with colleagues, harassment, violence, or bullying, reduced quality of life, shame, and self-doubt.
The Difference between Stigma and a Lack of Resources
It’s important to distinguish between stigma and a lack of resources as barriers to mental health services. While stigma often arises due to a lack of understanding or fear of mental health challenges, inadequate access to mental health care is also a big issue that disproportionately affects marginalized communities. Some of the barriers preventing these populations from receiving care include systemic racism and discrimination, insufficient insurance or financial means, a lack of culturally centered care, cultural differences in understanding mental health, and mistrust of mental health care providers.
Stigma Reduction Checklist
Stigma can contribute to organizational mental health inequities. To reduce its harm, it is important to identify if some processes and systems may perpetuate mental health stigma within your organization. One can do a “deep dive” and reflect on the following questions:
What type of language do you use?
Is there a lack of conversation around mental health?
Are assumptions being made about people who experience mental health?
What are you doing to help alleviate any fears or concerns that employees may have?
Actionable Tips to Normalize Mental Health in Your Organization
There are actionable steps that can be taken to reduce mental health stigma and promote mental health equity in the workplace. These steps include:
Have open conversations about mental health across different settings within your organization. Encourage employees to share their experiences (based on their level of comfort) and provide a safe space for discussion.
Promote mental health literacy by providing education on the intersectional nature of mental health and how diverse social identities impact lived experiences. This includes providing training to managers and supervisors on how to support employees with mental health challenges.
Showcase mental health benefits such as Modern Health by regularly reminding employees about their benefits through email, office signage, all-hands meetings, and executive-sponsored communications.
Mental health stigma can have severe and lasting effects on individuals with mental health challenges and their loved ones. In the workplace, it can create a toxic work environment and contribute to organizational mental health inequities. However, by taking actionable steps to reduce mental health stigma and promote mental health equity, workplaces can create a safe and supportive environment for all employees. Check out this library of resources for promoting mental health awareness in the workplace. Let's work together to reduce mental health stigma and promote mental health equity for all.
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