A study by Assocham showed that nearly 43 per cent of employees in the private sector in India suffer from mental health issues at work. Also, a WHO report in 2017 found out that 18 per cent of global depression cases originate from India.
While mental health issues in the workplace are a reality for most companies, the stigma associated with mental health problems often prevents people from seeking help. Stigma is the result of negative perceptions and stereotypes and reflects a lack of understanding about mental health issues. External stigma often involves negative opinions, judgements, comments, and assumptions made by others; internal stigma can take place when the person affected by mental illness internalises these negative messages.
Why Stigma is a Major Problem?
Though most mental health problems are common and treatable, the stigma or negative stereotypes associated with mental illness often forces employees to not talk about the issue. Even in workplaces that are quite progressive, several employees keep their mental health issues under wraps fearing that being open to talk about them will hurt their reputation, compromise work relationships, or even put their job at risk.
Employees with untreated mental health issues tend to have more serious and costly health issues in general. For instance, their risk of heart attacks and strokes is twice as high, and people with mental health issues are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This all adds up to missed work days and a loss in productivity that can significantly affect the performance of organisations.
How Organisations can Remove Stigma from their Workplaces
Helping to improve mental health and well-being at work is not only beneficial to employees but also the company and society at large. Here are some ways organisations can remove the stigma surrounding mental health:
Awareness and Open Discussions
The more people are aware of mental health issues and the challenges faced by people with mental health problems, the less powerful stigma becomes. Through education on mental health, companies can reduce stigma, discrimination, negative stereotypes, and fear in the workplace. Also, it is essential to create safe spaces for employees to talk about their own challenges without the fear of being "judged". Employees shouldn't fear that they will be excluded if they open up in this way. Leaders can set the tone for this by sharing their own experiences.
More Attention towards Language
It is common practice across different organisations to address people with mental health disorders with words like "Downy", "Scary", "Schizo". This can contribute significantly towards stigmatising mental health conditions. It is time to put an end to such practice and adopt practices that reduce prejudice, discrimination, and stigma against people suffering from mental health issues.
Increasing Access to Resources and Programs
Many organisations use employee assistance programmes (EAP) to support workplace mental health. Some employees may be reluctant to use this resource due to shame and lack of understanding, but they can go a long way in creating a workplace that values every individual equally and creates no discrimination or stigma. Companies can also provide direct access to mental health resources, apps, and even mental health professionals that can make employees feel supported and cared for.
Mental Health Training
It is crucial for every company to promote a culture that values every employee and understands that it's normal to suffer from mental health conditions. Mental health training for employees can help them recognise the signs of someone who may be struggling with a mental health challenge and connect them to support resources. Through plays and other activities, they can offer guidance on how to listen non-judgmentally, offer reassurance, and assess the risk of suicide or self-harm.
Making mental health stigma a thing of the past is the need of the hour for organisations. The common human connection that every person shares with another person is more important than what separates us. Everyone struggles with doubt and anxiety. However, empathy is vital to see that common ground and build on it to create opportunity and hope for all.
Prakriti Poddar, Director, Poddar Wellness Ltd