The Stigma of Mental Health in the Workplace

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Organizations need to consider mental health and its stigma as part of their post-pandemic return to the workplace. As companies sent everyone home, many faced extreme loneliness, fear, and anxiety.  Now that some organizations are bringing people back to onsite work arrangements, new emotional concerns arise. A true successful ‘return to office’ plan should include resources and support for those struggling. For these resources to be utilized fully, the stigma around using the resources must also be addressed.

Society’s misunderstanding and disapproval of mental illness only cause greater stress and anxiety on those who are already struggling. Maybe this is why more than half of those who struggle with mental illness never receive help (do you have a citation?). The COVID-19 pandemic brought mental health issues to an all-time high. Even as stress of this past year lightens for some, the mental struggles remain for others. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults experience a mental health condition each year, but 52% say their company doesn’t do enough to promote employee health and resources??.

What can an organization do to combat mental health and its stigma?

  1. Provide mental health literacy training to all employees. Talk openly about it. Don’t make it a secretive issue. Let employees know how common it is.
  2. Team leaders should be given additional training to recognize signs of mental strain and how to initiate sincere conversations with struggling employees. Training should include non-stigmatizing language.
  3. Direct Employees to a confidential and trusted counselor or resource when needed.
  4. Create workplace policies that promote mental health- outdoor spaces, physical health resources, support groups.
  5. Involve the Community- Local mental health experts may offer insight and local resources that would be ideal for your organization. Local support and church groups may offer counseling, prayer, or support.

Christian Care Ministry/Medi-Share not only has resources for seeking outside help but as a Christian workplace, also has on-site chaplains available for all employees. One of those Chaplains, Bill Adams recently wrote an article sharing that even Jesus experienced mental health stigma.

[Jesus’ own family members—devout ones like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah- were getting him wrong. And it was the Torah scribes and other faith leaders who diagnosed Jesus with a demon—again, getting him wrong. Then there was his #1 disciple, Simon Peter, who insisted Jesus the Messiah was confused when he said he had to suffer and die. How wrong Simon was about his Master.

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”  Mark 3:20-21 (ESV)

This and quite a few other Bible passages point to the reality of mental health diagnoses that we either wrongly presume or miss altogether. While we can be sure that the perfect Son of God was always in His right mind, we also see that, for our sake, he bore the stigma of others’ presumption that He must be out of His mind. And stigma is something we need to talk about.

What then is our task? I believe it is to hold out the hope of praising God while erasing the stigma that cultured society assigns to the precious mentally troubled among us.

A stigma is a mark of shame or discredit. How could a believer paint such a stain on a hurting fellow image-bearer?

So, let’s make a difference and let Mental Health Awareness challenge us, the ones who name the Name of Jesus, on how we can promote the mental, as well as the spiritual, health of the hurting ones God gives us to love.]

Untreated Mental health can interfere with work productivity. A worker may struggle with focus or avoid social interactions and miss more days. If an employee feels that the stigma around getting help is great, they won’t seek assistance.

The best way a workplace can assist team members with mental health and combat the stigma that surrounds it is through education and action. Incorporate these elements into your ‘back to office” plan for the greatest opportunity for a successful and productive work environment.

 Debbie Ryan is a Public Relations Specialist with Christian Care Ministry/Medi-Share. In addition to being a wife and mom, Debbie is passionate about health and wellness, and encourages others in healthy living and faith building every chance she gets.

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