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Health & Well-being

World Mental Illness Awareness Week: Creating a Stigma-free Workplace

September 14, 2021

This is an updated blog originally published September 21, 2020.

Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Michael Phelps have all been in the headlines lately, and not just because the summer Olympics recently ended. Instead, these well-known athletes have been speaking up about their mental health.

And they join approximately 1 in 7 people globally who has one or more mental or substance use disorders. In the U.S. alone, millions live with a mental health condition—but most don’t get the help they need. Stigma is one of the main reasons why people delay seeking treatment for eight to 10 years on average. Many never get help at all.

That’s why the National Alliance on Mental Illness advocates for those with mental illness by recognizing World Mental Illness Awareness Week, this year occurring from October 3-9, 2021.

What Is Mental Health Stigma?

Mental health stigma is negative stereotyping about mental illness that persists both inside and outside of the workplace. In other words, stigma occurs when someone sees a person in a negative way because of their mental illness.

Stigma can lead to discrimination. Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative comment about one’s mental illness, or it may be unintentional or subtle, such as avoidance because a person may be assumed to be unstable or violent due to their mental illness.

Stigma prevents 40% of people with anxiety and depression from seeking help. It not only prevents people from getting help, it can also have other harmful effects, such as:

  • Feelings of shame, hopelessness and isolation
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends or others
  • Fewer opportunities for employment or social interaction
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Believing that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation

Why the Stigma?

There is no easy way to completely understand or answer this question. Part of this issue may stem from binary thinking—that one is either mentally well (most of us) or mentally ill (those unlucky people who have depression and anxiety or another condition). This isn’t necessarily true. We all have a state of mental health.

If we can become more aware of the fact that we all have mental health and most of us have the ability to influence it (like other physical well-being components), we can begin to understand how we can improve our overall mental well-being.

Why Should Employers Promote Mental Health Awareness?

Since silence can drive stigma, employers will not benefit from being silent about this issue. The mental health of a workforce impacts the organization as a whole in many ways:

How Can Employers Help Create a Stigma-free Workplace?

It’s important to understand how we as individuals and employers can do our part in helping reduce the stigma.

  • Know the facts. Start with understanding what mental illness is and how common it is. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition.
  • Check your own beliefs. Examine your own attitudes, behaviors and thinking around mental illness and how you may be contributing to the stigma unknowingly.
  • Choose your words carefully. Consider that some words we use in our common vernacular may be offensive to those with mental illness and reinforce stigma. Then, choose to use different words.
  • See the person. Resist the urge to define someone and stereotype them based on their mental health status. See them as the person they are, first.
  • Talk about mental health. Make it okay to talk about mental health by including the topic appropriately in conversations in the workplace.
  • Promote Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 3-9) or Mental Illness Awareness Day (October 10) each year.

Mental Illness Awareness Week

Join us in bringing awareness to mental illness and helping reduce the stigma this October. Challenge and awareness ideas include:

Interested in learning more about how your workplace can help in the fight against mental illness and become a stigma-free workplace? Contact your local Hylant health strategist to learn more or get connected with a NAMI representative in your area.

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your employee benefits broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.

Author Maddison Bezdicek, Health Strategies Practice Leader, Hylant Employee Benefits Practice

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