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Stigma – We’re all Part of the Problem

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Do you discriminate? 

In what way do you fuel stigma?

I suspect most of you would say you don’t. Yet we know that 1 in 6 people experience mental health problems in the workplace. So that begs the question – why are more people not talking about it and seeking help?

The Relevance

A stigma is when someone views a person in a negative way because of an attribute or trait that sets someone apart from the rest of a group, and it brings with it feelings of shame and isolation. As a result, a person may experience prejudice, rejection, or discrimination. 

The reaction of others significantly influences our likelihood of admitting we’re struggling with any aspect of our mental health or wellbeing and so stigma is a primary barrier to revealing the truth. That has a very real impact on many of us day-to-day. 

Stigma also undermines psychological safety and as a result, shuts down people’s ability to be open, honest, trusting and innovative, and it increases defensive behaviours.

My Role

People may consciously and directly communicate stigma, or what is perhaps more common, people unintentionally or subtly support stigma. By letting it go unchallenged, or contributing by joining the ‘joke’, or using labels to identify people (“He’s bipolar,” instead of “He has bipolar disorder,”), we fuel the problem. 

When we choose to ignore our role in reducing stigma, we are adding to the problem.

How do we address stigma?

As we all contribute to stigma through our everyday actions, we can all play a part in dismantling it. And we need to hold each other to account. 

  1. Speak up! Call it out! Challenge language that is demeaning to others, however much it is intended as harmless and however uncomfortable that might feel. 

  2. Normalise mental health for every one of us by raising awareness through education, regular check-ins and sharing experiences, When we’re not hearing about mental health, we can assume that people aren’t comfortable talking about it.

  3. Stop Trivialising mental health, for example describing yourself as OCD just because you like to be organised, without regard for the amount of suffering associated with the condition. Whether it is feeling low, stressed, exhausted or struggling to sleep – if it is impacting on someone’s ability to live normally, it needs positive attention.

  4. Avoid the myth that mental health is something people can control with willpower. If someone is feeling depressed, they can’t just snap out of it. Instead, ask people about how it affects them and what might be helpful. 

  5. If you’re experiencing stigma, seek help from people you trust to talk about it, and reach out to people and services you can rely on to listen and support without judgement, for example a mental health advocate or Mind

Be realistic – attitudes take time to change, but you can pioneer an evolving narrative.

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