Ending Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace


World Mental Health Day 2020 this past weekend was not just about highlighting the need for ending social stigma surrounding mental health; this year it was also about checking in with everyone worldwide. After all, it’s been an incredibly difficult year, and the ordeal is far from over.

In line with that, we decided to discuss mental health in the workplace, and what businesses and HR can especially do in current circumstances to nurture a more wholesome and inclusive space for employees.

The Impact of Sidelining Mental Health in the Workplace

Work is great for the mind and body, we all know that. However, sustained work requires a positive and healthy environment, just like all other aspects of life. The World Health Organization describes a healthy workplace as a place “where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all employees.” So what happens when such an environment isn’t available and its consequences not considered? A lot, as it turns out. Here’s a quick summary of some of the issues directly attributed to an unhealthy (for mental health) work environment:

  • Relationship issues between employees
  • Poor performance and productivity
  • Poor quality of work
  • Greater relationship issues in the personal lives of employees
  • Deteriorating physical health
  • Lack of motivation and drive
  • Increase in harassment

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Not only does fostering a negligent or unhealthy environment in the workplace affect employees’ mental health, but the business gets directly impacted while also bearing additional costs of treatments. No one wins.

There is a two-pronged approach needed to really turn things around. Fostering a more wholesome office environment and promoting frank and frequent discussions on mental health. Let’s examine what these can achieve.

Building a Better Workplace Environment

A better workplace environment in this scenario specifically refers to a workplace where employers and employees are cognizant of both the importance of being mentally healthy and knowing that there is a system in place to learn of and seek help for any issues. 

Global and local health organizations stress the importance of implementing good practices and interventions to promote mental health in a workplace. This means establishing safety guidelines and practices into the company policy, as well as identifiers of what constitutes as evidence of declining mental health and how to manage such situations. It also involves informing employees of all options available to them, including training sessions and any medical or therapeutic help they may need. 

Employers can also create a better workplace simply by helping employees plan their careers better and praising them frequently for their work, thus creating a positive feedback loop that helps employees develop their careers in more fulfilling ways and thus reinforcing their mental well-being as well.

This bodes well for everyone who experiences poor mental health infrequently, or situationally. However, this does not cater to those who suffer from mental disorders or live on the behaviour spectrum outside the vanilla definition of “normal”. For this, businesses need to:

Support People with Mental Health Disorders

And truly, the first way to do that is by normalizing discussion about such things. It is the best and most permanent way of removing the stigma against mental health and perceiving employees as anything other than people. As we have previously discussed, a workplace that is high in emotionally intelligent individuals can lead to all-round positivity, especially when it comes to socially sensitive subjects like mental health issues. 

Beyond that, organizations can go a long way to helping such individuals by boosting the support they are provided by the organization’s systems. Such support can range from flexible work hours to the option for working from home, pushing to develop a more positive workplace as outlined above and a secure line of communication with management that is both reassuring and supportive. Luckily, modern technology has empowered HR to be easily able to implement things like flexi-hours, remote working and confidential communications. 

The thing to remember in all of this is that none of this is a one-time thing. Not the changes, not the conversation, not the support. It must be regular and continuous, evolving to meet the growing needs of employees current and future, and it must come through from HR and management.


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