Let's Fight Mental Health Stigma

Mentally ill people are challenged twice.

Rachel Arkle recently published a blog on HR review emphasising five things you need to understand about mental health: what mental health means for your people, who is at risk, what to do about it, how to communicate, and understand mental health is a practice.

Why is it important for you as an employer - and individual - to understand mental health?

One reason is to fight stigma that is frequently attached to the mental health status of individuals. Public stigma is defined as a social process during which individuals with a certain characteristic are being stereotyped, excluded, rejected and devalued [1]. Compared to people with physical injuries, mentally ill suffer from an illness that dictates how they are perceived by society [2].

According to the Mental Health Foundation nine out of ten people with a mental illness report to experience stigma [3], which can have an additional impact on an their mental health. Research has found mentally ill are often challenged twice; first by their illness and again when they are stigmatised [4].

The concept of stigma is often the result of a lack of understanding, misinformation or misconceptions about mental illness in society, which can lead to a separation between “us” and the stigmatised “them” [5]. “Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect”, says the World Health Organisation [6].

Due to the high prevalence of mental illnesses among working populations it is fundamental to implement mental health promotion, preventative actions and interventions particularly at the workplace [7]. It is important “we” understand mental health in favour of our colleagues who experience (symptoms of) a mental illness. As we further our understanding of mental health, we can help create a just and equitable workplace and eliminate stigma.

There are three things we need to do as employer, colleague and individual: open up to mental health, meet people with a mental illness, and interact with them. Direct contact to people with mental illnesses is known as an effective strategy to challenge stereotypes and to fight stigma [8]. As we open up to those people who suffer from a mental illness, we are able to see their lives and suffering from a different perspective. Meeting and interacting with these people can change the way we perceive mental illnesses and our negative attitude against it. [9]. In the workplace, employers and colleagues’ understanding about mental health is necessary to facilitate affected people to feel included rather than stigmatised. I believe that supportive behaviour and encouragement shows a form of acceptance and helps mentally ill to believe in them; believe they can be stronger than their illness; believe they can cope well with their illness or even go back to a stage prior to their illness.



Written by Lena Schnitzler

Lena is an international health scientist (BSc, MSc) with a specialisation in Prevention & Public Health. Over the course of her studies, Lena gained international experience working at academic research institutes in Sydney and Toronto. She recently conducted a study examining the management of mental health conditions in the context of Workers’ Compensation in Canada. She is passionate about promoting wellbeing and mental health worldwide. References


[1] Weiss MG, Ramakrishna J, Somma D. Health-related stigma: Rethinking concepts and interventions 1. Psychol Health Med. 2006;11:277-87.

[2] Howard B. Outsiders: studies in the sociology of deviance. New York. 1963.

[3] Mental Health Foundation. Stigma and discrimination. England2016.

[4] Corrigan PW, Watson AC. Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World psychiatry. 2002;1:16-20.

[5] Link BG, Phelan JC. Conceptualizing stigma. Annu Rev Sociol. 2001:363-85.

[6] World Health Organization. Mental disorders affect one in four people. Geneva.

[7] Malachowski C, Kirsh B. Workplace antistigma initiatives: a scoping study. Psychiatr Serv. 2013.

[8] Evans-Lacko S, Gronholm PC, Hankir A, Pingani L, Corrigan P. Practical strategies to fight stigma in mental health. Psychiatry in Practice: Education, Experience, and Expertise. 2016:237.

[9] Evans-Lacko S, Knapp M. Importance of social and cultural factors for attitudes, disclosure and time off work for depression: Findings from a seven country European study on depression in the workplace. PLoS One. 2014;9:e91053.