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How to Deal With Stigma Around Mental Health in the Workplace


We spend much of our lives at work, often struggling to separate personal life from professional responsibilities. This challenge is particularly emphasized today, with work-from-home arrangements blurring these boundaries even further. This is why the subject of mental health in the workplace emerges as a very important concern.

However, it’s not just about professional well-being but also about people who are trying to confront the mental health shame that can quietly crawl into our work environments. This shame is often rooted in stigma and misunderstanding, and it can have profound implications on both individual and organizational health. So join We Level Up WA in our mission of destigmatizing mental health, starting from the place we spend a major part of our lives. 

Understanding mental health stigma

The stigma around mental health, particularly in the workplace, is a complex issue. It’s deeply rooted in misconceptions and stereotypes and is still a barrier people feel, preventing them from speaking up and seeking help. Many disorders are misunderstood or not understood at all. For instance, situational depression, a form of depression triggered by significant life changes or stress, is often dismissed in professional settings. This, along with other mental illness stereotypes, contributes to a workplace environment where you may hesitate to discuss your struggles openly.

a woman holding her head, representing how to deal with stigma around mental health in the workplace
Mental health at work is often overlooked, leading to unnecessary stigma and silence around this crucial issue.

Types of stigma surrounding mental health

Mental health stigma in the workplace takes various forms:

  • Public stigma happens when people collectively hold negative attitudes.
  • Self-stigma refers to people who internalize these mental health prejudices.
  • Institutional stigma is embedded in the policies and culture of organizations. The negative impacts of this stigma are extensive and lead to worsened symptoms, decreased chances of seeking treatment, and difficulties in social and professional settings.

In Washington, the state of mental health at work mirrors national trends, where half of the workers express concern about discussing mental health issues at their jobs. On top of that, more than one in three employees worry about retaliation or being fired if they seek mental health care. These statistics show how important it is to address mental health stigma in the workplace and ensure that employees feel safe and supported to discuss and seek help for their mental health concerns.

A woman that's overwhelmed by work looking at something on her laptop while her children are playing
Work-from-home arrangements blur boundaries between personal and professional life.

The reality of mental health in the workplace

Going further into statistics, we can’t help but feel concerned about the state of mental health in the workplace. The National Library of Medicine has published a report by the World Health Organization, which states that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity per year.

This is partly caused by people being absent from work but also by a decline in productivity at work. Unfortunately, despite the evidence linking poor mental health to reduced productivity, we need more research to fully understand the extent and mechanisms through which mental illness affects employee efficiency.

How the workplace affects mental health

The workplace itself can be a risk to mental health, with factors like excessive workloads, understaffing, lack of control over job design, unsafe working conditions, and limited support from colleagues or management all posing a threat.

These conditions do more than just mess with people’s ability to perform and enjoy their work; they can also lead to increased stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Additionally, economic recessions and public health emergencies (like the COVID-19 pandemic) have increased these risks because they lead to job loss, financial instability, and heightened mental health concerns.

That’s why it’s so important for workplaces to actively engage in preventing and addressing mental health conditions. This can be done through organizational interventions that assess and deal with workplace risks to mental health. For example, an employer can consider providing flexible working arrangements or frameworks to handle violence and harassment.

Protecting and promoting mental health in the workplace is not only a fundamental right but also essential for minimizing tension and conflicts at work, improving staff retention, and enhancing overall work performance and productivity.

Recognizing signs of mental health struggles

One in five Americans suffers from a mental health condition. Some even suffer from multiple. While certain factors at work can contribute to their development, in most cases, they start way earlier, as early as in childhood. What’s particularly painful is that less than half of those experiencing these issues seek treatment. And the longer someone goes without seeking help, the higher the chance their illness will impact their career.

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More often than not, affected individuals will try to hide that an issue exists, making it complicated for coworkers to realize something is off. This is especially true in remote or hybrid work settings when interactions between colleagues are fairly limited. For the sake of identifying mental health struggles, it’s important to be aware of common signs that accompany them:

  • Changes in sleep patterns can affect energy levels and concentration and are commonly seen in depression.
  • Feeling sad or experiencing a loss of interest could be another sign of depression that may lead to social withdrawal and loss of motivation.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions is a common symptom of both depression and anxiety. This is something that may affect cognitive functions necessary for work tasks.
  • Overeating or not eating enough can be associated with various mental health conditions.
  • Persistent tiredness or restlessness can also occur and hinder work performance.
  • Excessive worry or irritability are typical signs of anxiety disorders that affect an individual’s ability to manage stress.
  • Avoiding social interactions or reluctance to engage in workplace activities can indicate deeper mental health issues. For instance, they could be avoidant personality disorder symptoms.

Making mental health a priority at work

Employers and coworkers can play a big role in recognizing the signs of mental illnesses. They can also offer support and encourage employees to reach out without fear of being judged or discriminated against. This can be done through establishing supportive policies and providing training or resources that contribute to a healthier work environment.

Additionally, workplaces should be mindful of the broader impacts of mental health issues. We already mentioned depression as a very common disorder; it can interfere with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time. Employers need to understand these facts and create strategies that will assist employees who are facing mental health challenges.

How to talk about mental health at work

It’s high time we broke the silence about mental health at work! However, to do so, we first need to tackle both the stigma and the stereotypes. Yes, talking about mental health is scary. But how can we make our workplace more supportive if we aren’t willing to discuss the problem?

One way to help those in a mental health crisis is by sharing your own experiences. This makes the topic more relatable and encourages others to share, too. Just remember, you’re not their therapist but a supportive colleague or leader. Also, be understanding and remember that mental health affects everyone differently.

When talking, listen without judging and offer support. You can suggest solutions such as professional mental health treatment or resources, but make sure to validate their feelings. These practices not only reduce stigma but also help everyone feel better at work.

Employers can help, too. For example, they can promote work-life balance by offering flexible hours or remote opportunities that prevent stress and burnout. Some owners believe putting employee well-being first isn’t good for the company. However, the opposite is true, as it’s shown to greatly boost productivity and morale.

Dispelling myths and stereotypes

Mental health stereotypes and myths can be deeply rooted in workplace culture. They are more common than you may think and significantly contribute to mental health stigma. That said, let’s take a look at the typical misconceptions:

  • Mental health issues are rare. Quite the opposite, mental health conditions affect millions of people worldwide.
  • Mental illness is a sign of weakness. Mental health issues are not a choice or a result of a lack of willpower. They are often caused by complex biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
  • People with mental health issues can’t work. Many individuals with mental health conditions lead productive lives and are valuable members of the workforce.
  • Therapy and counseling are unnecessary. Treatments, including CBT for personality disorders, have been proven effective in managing and overcoming mental health challenges.

To create a workplace where everyone feels valued and supported, it’s essential to keep debunking myths through honest conversations and sharing facts. Together, we can break down barriers, reduce stigma, and make it easier for employees to seek help when they need it.

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Fostering a supportive workplace culture

A culture that values each employee’s well-being contributes to a more engaged, productive, and happy workforce. If we recognize mental health as an integral part of overall health and try to understand it better, we’ll be able to understand whether anxiety is a disability for work, along with many other concerns. Policies and practices should reflect the necessary accommodations and support systems for those in need.

It’s important for us all to create work environments where employees will feel safe to talk about their mental health without fear. In order to create this kind of environment, employers should provide access to resources and training. If a company implements initiatives that promote mental wellness and build a culture that addresses and supports mental health – that’s something every employee can benefit from.

Accommodations and workplace policies

Providing accommodations for employees with mental health conditions isn’t just a nice gesture—it’s often required by law. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employers offer reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, including mental health issues. This could mean things like flexible work hours, remote work options, or adjustments to workload.

We should all make an effort to understand the legal side of mental health at work; it helps with coming up with fair policies that support employees dealing with mental health challenges.

Moreover, offering mental health coverage through insurance providers such as Cigna as part of our employee benefits package shows our commitment to providing comprehensive healthcare. Other initiatives, such as mandatory mental health days off, training managers on mental health awareness, and providing access to confidential counseling services, also reflect the importance of mental well-being in the workplace.

Seeking professional help

People with mental health issues often require professional help. Yet, they are typically reluctant to ask for it out of fear of being judged. As mental health challenges, from performance anxiety to more complex conditions like depression and schizophrenia, can significantly impact a person’s well-being and productivity, it’s the employers’ job to actively support their staff in getting the care they need.

Patient talking to a therapist about mental health in the workplace
Encouraging employees to seek professional help is a key aspect of addressing mental health in the workplace.

One way to support workers’ recovery is by helping them choose among the inpatient mental health facilities in Washington State. Our facility could prove the right option in this regard. We specialize in everything from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), commonly used to treat borderline personality disorders.

The role of group support 

Group support facilitated at the company grounds can be a powerful aid for supporting mental health in the workplace. It provides a safe space where individuals can share their experiences and the challenges they are facing. In doing so, they encourage a culture of openness that breaks down the barriers of isolation and silence.

Integrating discussions about mental health centers near WA during sessions can be of great help, as well. Providing information on local treatment facilities educates the workforce about the support options available. At the same time, it normalizes the act of seeking professional help.

Technology and mental health in the workplace

In terms of mental health, technology can be both a curse and a blessing. While it can contribute to burnout at work, it can also be a valuable tool for supporting cognitive well-being. For example, certain mental health apps and online therapy programs may serve as accessible and convenient solutions for addressing issues that aren’t as severe. However, it’s essential to strike a balance here. The goal is for technology to provide relief, not cause additional stress or feelings of isolation.

Achieving mental wellness in professional spaces

Many people struggle to talk about their mental health in the workplace. This inability to discuss what’s bothering them is typically rooted in fear of being judged or the lack of awareness. Still, once controversial, this topic isn’t something to hide from. Instead, it’s something to talk about openly. Individuals can only do so much about combating stigma around mental health at work. Yet, together, we can do a lot. Truth be told, destigmatization begins with creating a place where everyone feels safe and ready to speak up. This approach doesn’t just make the workplace stronger, though; it helps everyone in it perform their best. In professional settings, surely, but also in their personal lives.

Sources:
  1. “2023 Workplace Mental Health: New Challenges, New Directions, and Best Practices | Spring Health.” Www.springhealth.com, www.springhealth.com/blog/2023-workplace-mental-health.
  2. American Psychological Association. “2023 Work in America Survey.” Apa.org, 2023, www.apa.org/pubs/reports/work-in-america/2023-workplace-health-well-being.
  3. CDC. “Mental Health in the Workplace .” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Apr. 2019, www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html.
  4. Chodavadia, Parth, et al. “Prevalence and Economic Burden of Depression and Anxiety Symptoms among Singaporean Adults: Results from a 2022 Web Panel.” BMC Psychiatry, vol. 23, no. 1, 14 Feb. 2023, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9925363/, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-023-04581-7.
  5. “Ranking the States 2023.” Mental Health America, www.mhanational.org/issues/2023/ranking-states.
  6. Robinson, Lawrence, and Melinda Smith. “Mental Health in the Workplace – HelpGuide.org.” Https://Www.helpguide.org, 28 Feb. 2023, www.helpguide.org/articles/work/mental-health-in-the-workplace.htm.
  7. Sudermann, Hannelore. “Mental-Health Needs Have Washington in a State of Crisis.” UW Magazine — University of Washington Magazine, Sept. 2021, magazine.washington.edu/feature/mental-health-needs-have-washington-in-a-state-of-crisis/.
  8. “Why Should Mental Health Be a Priority in the Workplace?” Imagine | Johns Hopkins University, 17 May 2023, imagine.jhu.edu/blog/2023/05/17/breaking-the-stigma-why-mental-health-should-be-a-priority-in-the-workplace/.
  9. “Workplace Mental Health – Knowing the Warning Signs.” Www.workplacementalhealth.org, www.workplacementalhealth.org/mental-health-topics/knowing-the-warning-signs.

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