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Begin the Conversation to Build Awareness and Reduce Stigma

It’s not uncommon to hear negative comments about co-workers:

  • “Keep your distance – she’s nuts.”
  • “It’s like he has a dark cloud above him all day long.“
  • “I think they both have a screw loose.”
  • “She’s so moody!”

As a society, we’re generally not adept at empathizing with people who have mental health issues. A stigma (a set of negative and often unfair beliefs) surrounds psychological illness – we envision someone who is completely out of touch with reality, dangerous, or incompetent.

Unfortunately, these beliefs are often internalized by those with mental health issues themselves, creating a “self-stigma”. This, in turn, can lead to feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing. It can perpetuate a negative cycle whereby those with mental health issues try to protect themselves by withdrawing from social interactions, and that isolation only serves to exacerbate their illness.

“It’s time we start the real conversations needed to shift attitudes toward mental health in the workplace” – Dr. Heather Stuart

In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem. It touches all of us – either directly, or through families, friends or colleagues.

Yet for such a large problem, it’s a very personal condition that can be almost invisible in the workplace. A Canadian Medical Association study found that 77% of Canadian workers said they would NOT tell their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem.

You can help change this situation:

  • Watch your language
    Discourage disparaging remarks and labels. Encourage respect of all.

  • Educate others
    We fear what we don’t understand. Share knowledge that helps break down stereotypes.

  • Be kind
    Establish a patient and accepting atmosphere to prompt openness.

  • Listen
    Be available to staff struggling with mental health issues, as well as co-workers having difficulty working with them.

  • Break the silence
    Let others know mental health is not a taboo subject.

Try these initial steps:

  • Hang posters – Put a poster on your office door that helps reduce the stigma and prompts discussion. You can find some examples by searching the resources on this site with the keyword “poster”.

  • Share videos – Watch and share the mental health videos on this site with your staff.
  • Try lunch & learns – Schedule a lunch & learn on improving mental health in the workplace. You can see a list of topic suggestions in the FAQ section.

  • Encourage positive lifestyle choices – Physical health and mental health are intertwined. Find ways to promote physical activity, healthy eating and social interactions. Make sure staff take breaks and vacations to recharge.

  • Add to your company intranet– If you have a company intranet, add the window. It’s a simple way to keep mental health top of mind, and provide your staff access to useful resources, a tip or fact about mental health each day, and educational videos.

Contributing Sources: Guarding Minds @ Work, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services
Dr. Heather Stuart, Chair of Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research at Queens University


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