Mental health issues are a common problem facing Australians, and the related statistics are telling:

  • Currently, about 450 million people around the world are living with some kind of mental disorder.
  • According to the World Health Organisation, about 25% of the global population will experience a mental disorder at least once in their lifetime.
  • In Australia alone, about 1 out of every 5 of us will experience mental ill-health every year.
  • Mental health problems hold the dubious honor of being the third leading cause of disability within the Australian labour force.
  • It’s been estimated that Australian businesses lose more than $6.5 billion every year by not providing early intervention and treatment for their employees who are experiencing mental health issues.
  • However, despite evidence showing just how common this condition is, it’s been estimated that up to two thirds of people with a known mental health condition choose not to seek professional help.
Stigma Around Mental Health At Work

Why is this so?

Access to care, language barriers, and a dearth of quality resources are a few reasons why, but perhaps the most insidious reason is stigma.

Mental Health Stigma Exists — and it Doesn’t Necessarily Stop at the Workplace

Stigma has a powerful influence in the world of mental health issues. Society at large often views people living with mental disorders as unstable, dangerous, or even violent. People with mental health challenges are often believed to be incapable of leading productive and fulfilling lives—indeed, sufferers themselves may even believe this. Research doesn’t tend to support these assumptions, but media and cultural expectations often bolster them, anyway.

These assumptions—real or imagined—can discourage people living with mental ill-health to seek much needed treatment. Their condition may make them feel ashamed, weak, and alone, which of course only compounds their mental health issue and propagates a vicious feed-forward cycle of stress, isolation, and illness.

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Mental Health Issues on the Job

If we agree that stigma about mental health is virtually ubiquitous, then it becomes clear how this same stigma can exist in the workplace, too. Specifically, both employers and employees may assume a mental health problem will render a person less productive, less organized, and less able to focus on their tasks at hand. Of course, in some cases this can actually hold true, especially if an individual hasn’t sought treatment for their underlying disorder.

Many workplace team members living with a mental health issue choose to hide their issues. They often fear for their job security or are afraid to risk “losing face” in front of their bosses, colleagues, and customers. On their end, employers may not have the tools and tactics to talk to their employees about their suffering. Indeed, an employer may not even be aware that one of his or her team members is suffering from a mental health issue in the first place (unlike a broken ankle or other physical ailment, mental health conditions are often “invisible” and difficult to recognise).

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It’s worth pausing here to reflect on something: mental health problems are common problems. It’s unfortunate that so many people grappling with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues believe that they have to face their challenges alone. Fortunately, leaders in business organizations are in a unique position to change the way their individual companies approach and accommodate mental health, which can have a profoundly positive impact on the issue of mental health as a whole.

3 Ways to Reduce Stigma Associated with Workplace Mental Health Issues

A workplace culture that stigmatises against workplace mental health issues can be detrimental to both individuals within a company and to the company as a whole. Breaking through this stigma can be extremely difficult. Here are 3 ways to get started:

  1. Educate at all levels.

From senior executives to entry-level team members, everyone in your company can benefit from learning more about mental health. Consider sending out company-wide memos, holding in-services, inviting guest speakers, or even running annual events such as “Mental Health Month” as a way to disseminate information and reduce the fear, stigma, and mystery surrounding mental health.

  1. Ensure everyone on your team has access to help.

Work with your HR team or consultants to raise awareness about policies and programs designed to support both physical and mental health. Use discretion and show that you respect your employees’ privacy.

  1. Make your anti-discrimination policies clear.

As a manager, it’s in your best interest to show your employees that they will not be discriminated against due to a mental health issue. Lead by example. Show that by acknowledging and seeking help for a health issue, a person can become an even more valuable employee at your company, rather than a liability.

To your mental health,

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Author: Peter Diaz

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organizations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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