January 26th marks Bell Let’s Talk Day, an annual day dedicated to promoting awareness around mental health in Canada and taking action to combat stigma, provide support for those suffering with mental health and encourage mental health training in the workplace.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it is vital that we work together to break stigmas that still exist in the professional world. These stigmas may prevent those suffering from seeking help and have a real impact on their wellbeing. We need to look after ourselves and those around us. So, how do we address mental health stigma in the workplace and offer support to our peers at work?
What are the key challenges in reducing mental health stigma in the workplace?
The stigma around mental health dates back to as far as the 20th century but, unfortunately, still exists today. And, although there has been a significant decrease in stigma in the workplace in recent years, there is still a lot more work to be done.
Mental health stigma is prevalent in many working environments and can be seen in more subtle forms, such as downplaying other people’s emotions, or more overt ways, such as expressing negative attitudes, showing discrimination and bullying towards those with mental health conditions.
With this, we are beginning to see more of the harmful effects that stigma can have. This includes a reluctance among employees to seek treatment for serious mental health conditions, as well as reduced opportunities for progression within their careers and lack of social assimilation.
Bell Let’s Talk breaks down the issue of mental health into four pillars, each of which demonstrates the key challenges we are facing in supporting mental health in the workplace.
- Care & access
- Workplace leadership
A lack of awareness and understanding about mental health is one of the main challenges, which is mainly down to a lack of education. Also, there are often limited support services available to those struggling with mental health and little to no training for leadership teams on how to deal with mental health amongst their teams.
What can leadership do to help support employees?
Leaders have the responsibility to look after their teams and support their development, both professionally and personally, which includes providing mental health support. Here are just a few ways you can do this:
Skills and training
According to Mark Edgar, Co-Founder of future foHRward in Canada, “It’s critically important for organizations to ensure their leaders have the right leadership skills to create an engaging and inclusive environment”.
That’s why excellent communication and interpersonal skills are a must-have when hiring for new managers and other leadership roles. On top of this, it is best practice for businesses to provide additional training for leaders to ensure they are confident in providing the appropriate support for their teams. The Mental Health First Aid course is a good place to start.
Build trusting relationships
Building trusting and respectful relationships with your team members and creating a culture where everyone feels comfortable being their full selves, talking openly about their concerns or seeking mental health advice, is important for reducing stigma.
However, it is useful to recognize that this will look different for each individual. Some people may prefer someone familiar to talk to and others may require a structured support system to help keep them on track.
Review company processes and policies
If you don’t have one already, a HR manager or HR team can help assess your company’s existing mental health policies and fill any gaps, be that providing access to mental health treatment for employees or implementing a wellbeing program. Additionally, some people will feel uncomfortable speaking to their line managers and would prefer someone more impartial, like a HR representative.
Establishing new workplace processes and policies and communicating this to your company can help set a good example for everyone to follow, while also putting your employees at ease knowing that they can ask for help when they need it.
Create support groups
Support groups are a great way to encourage employees to communicate openly about their professional and personal struggles. Creating a safe space to discuss shared experiences and characteristics can help break down barriers and reduce stigma. This doesn’t need to be a formal meeting, but a friendly social environment works well, too.
What can you do as an individual to support yourself and others?
Every little counts when it comes to reducing mental health stigma and helping those around you. Here are just a few things you can do to do your part.
Be conscious of your language
Be mindful of the words you use. Something that may seem harmless to you, could be extremely hurtful to someone else. For example, phrases like ‘she’s crazy’, ‘this makes me depressed’ or ‘I’m so OCD’ spoken inappropriately could cause a lot more damage than you may think.
Recognize the signs of stress
Understanding the signs of stress in yourself can help you know when it’s time to ask for help and avoid internalizing your emotions. In the same way, recognizing signs of stress in others can help you identify when it’s a good time to check in on your peers. Everyone responds to stress differently, however, some of the most common signs of stress to look out for at work include:
- Decreased performance
- More sickness absences
- Concentration or memory problems
- Working longer hours or through breaks
- Withdrawal from work social activities
Reach out to coworkers
If you feel overwhelmed at work or your personal life is impacting your day-to-day, try reaching out to your line manager or coworkers for support. Talking it through can help you feel much less alone and take some of the weight off your shoulders. Mental health will affect everyone at some point in their lives and by opening up the conversation of mental health, you may also encourage others to do the same.
Listen with empathy
One of the biggest mistakes people make when talking about mental health is offering a solution to someone else’s problems when, sometimes, all you need to do is listen - really listen! A lot of the time, people are not looking to solve their problems or for sympathy, but an empathetic ear to acknowledge and validate their feelings. If you don’t know how to react or what to say, something as little as ‘I’m here for you’ or ‘I understand’ can make all the difference.
If training and education around mental health are not provided in your company, then go out of your way to educate yourself. Understanding what mental health is and what it isn’t can help you better understand your colleagues and help reduce the stigma.
See our top tips for looking after your mental health for more information.
Reducing mental health stigma at FDM
At FDM, we offer a number of support and development initiatives, designed to help our consultants throughout their career.
- Our wellbeing program offers helpful resources and access to our Wellbeing Ambassadors across the FDM community.
- Our FDM Networks are staff-led support groups for discussion around shared characteristics.
- Our Consultant Peer Support program pairs up new consultants with those already working within the company to introduce them to a friendly face and help them settle into their new surroundings.
If you’re struggling with your mental health at work, or want to get more involved in the movement to reduce mental health stigma, check out Bell Let’s Talk.