With mental health stigma alive and well despite some great strides taken by the global community to bring awareness to mental health, it would still take a great deal of strength and courage for an individual to share with an employer that he or she is struggling with a mental illness. I truly believe that sharing a diagnosis can provide a sense of relief in that it offers a path of treatment and helps family and friends understand what their loved one is going through. However, labelling can also have an adverse effect on the person suffering if they do not feel supported in the workplace.
How do you ensure that your workplace is a safe environment for someone to share his or her diagnosis?
Open communication, ensuring that confidentiality is respected: Encourage your employees to talk about mental health as a whole, whether that be recent trends in the news, a focus on workplace balance and wellness or even sharing stress-reducing strategies. Ensure that you take the lead from the individual on how much he or she would like to share in the workplace, so that confidentiality is maintained.
Inclusive language in the workplace: Words like “downer” “schizo” or “OCD” can minimize a person’s experience with mental illness and insinuates that there is something strange or abnormal about them. Suggest that your office commit to erasing these negative labels from the culture of the workplace. Think about additional mental health labels or phrases that may offend co-workers and continue this dialogue on the blog or at work to heighten awareness
Understand no one’s experience with mental illness is the same: Education and awareness is a vital first step to appreciating how a person with a mental health issue may be struggling and how it affects his or her day-to-day functioning. Be wary, however, of assuming that you know how “depressed people act” or what “anxiety feels like” regardless of how much experience you may have had with these illnesses personally or from those around you. Everyone experiences his or her illness in a unique way, and you can only aim to listen and empathize with their individual experience with it.
How does your workplace support mental health issues? Are there other ways you can think of that would foster a safe environment to share mental health information? I look forward to your comments below!
Check out the video below, from February 1st, 2014, where Howie Mandel discusses how mental health should be attended to from infancy.