A Leader’s Role In Banishing Mental Health Stigma

October 22, 2023 thehrobserver-hrobserver-leadership-mentalhealth

Mental health is a hot topic these days. Let’s face it; the world and life can sometimes be very challenging. The recent pandemic was a stark reminder of this and opened our eyes to the importance of mental health. It should come as no surprise that mental health is becoming increasingly important in the workplace.

However, mental health is still a taboo subject in some workplaces, which can lead to negative outcomes for employees and leaders. These outcomes include disengagement, lack of psychological safety, decreased productivity, and absenteeism.

We need to ask ourselves why mental health is stigmatized. After all, would we judge someone for having a broken leg at work? Most likely your answer is no. So why then would we judge a person for having a mental illness, which is also a health issue? Bluntly said, that stigma arises through lack of understanding, ignorance, and misinformation. There are also negative connotations and beliefs around mental health, which lead to prejudice and discrimination. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are words thrown around in most of today’s organisations, and it could be said that mental health is the last frontier to address in DEI strategy. However, DEI and Mental Health are closely interlinked, and those suffering from mental illness can suffer the same marginalization, bias, and micro-aggressions as employees from diverse backgrounds.

The other side of the coin is that diverse groups can also be affected by mental health issues by having their race, identity, and fundamentally who they are brought into question. Experiencing this can affect their mental health and they may not know where to turn or have access to support to help them. In this article, we discuss how you can use your leadership influence to help reduce the stigma of mental health in the workplace while also taking care of your own mental health. As Brock Chisholm of the World Health Organisation so aptly said, “There is no health without mental health”.

Put on Your Oxygen Mask

It’s a well-known analogy that says it best – you must put on your oxygen mask before you can help others. If you are not looking after your well-being, it will be challenging for you to help others, and you may feel a sense of inauthenticity if you don’t practice what you preach. Make sure you look after your mental health and prioritize yourself. Do what you need to feel good, create space for yourself, and find balance. Everyone is different and going through their own experience, so find what helps you feel most balanced so you can confidently support your team and lead the way in reducing stigma.

Talk About It!

Don’t be silent or afraid to share your own experiences, people will respect you more for it and you will form deeper connections. It’s important to educate your teams and colleagues about mental health and normalize the topic. This can be anything from having a conversation, a well-being check-in in your 1:1’s or team meetings, to a more structured formal approach such as encouraging your team members to attend your Company’s well-being initiatives or to utilize the Company’s employee assistance program. Your goal is to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental well-being, the only way to do this is to bring it into everyday life.

Create a Safe Place for Your Team.

Going deeper, you need to ensure that you create a safe environment where people feel comfortable talking about mental health. Ask yourself, how can you create a culture where people can talk openly about their mental health without fear of judgment or discrimination? A huge element of this is trust and authenticity, make sure your team feels they have your support and can safely talk to you about their concerns.

Promote mental health resources and support.

It’s important to know what kind of mental health support your company offers, so you can share it with your team and help them feel their best. And if someone needs counseling, you’ll know where to turn. As a leader, you can also show your team that you care about their mental health by providing access to mental health professionals, an employee assistance program (EAP), or mental health days. By offering these resources, you’ll let your team know that you’ve got their back and want them to feel good.

Lead The Way.

If we want to break down the stigma around mental health in the workplace, leaders need to show the way. That means making mental health a top priority by offering support and resources, being open and talking about mental health, and creating policies that give mental health the attention it deserves, like flexible work arrangements or mental health days.

And don’t forget to use these resources yourself! Leading by example is key to making mental health a priority. So, take care of yourself, be open about your own mental health journey, and show your team that it’s okay to prioritize mental health. Together, we can create a workplace culture that values and supports mental health, and that’s something to be proud of!

To wrap it all up, reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace is vital for everyone’s well-being. By educating employees and managers, promoting open communication, providing mental health resources and support, and leading by example, leaders can cultivate a workplace culture that values and prioritizes mental health. This will lead to a happier and healthier workplace for all, and who wouldn’t want that?

Alexis Gibson

HR Business Partner, Ford Middle East & Africa

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