Stigma refers to the negative internal attitudes and beliefs people hold toward something. Stigma can also be an amalgamation of ignorance, prejudice and discrimination. Discrimination is the external effect of the stigma that results in the denial of individuals their rights and social inclusion. Stigma and discrimination can be more detrimental to the individual than the actual mental illness. This is due to the withdrawal of support from loved ones and colleagues in addition to shunning and exclusion. Numerous misconceptions still exist about mental illness which leads to stigma and shame.
Stigma is disrespectful and is the number one barrier to treating mental health conditions.
Stigma and shame in the workplace play a large role in the under-treatment of mental illness. Stigma plays a role in the decreased speed of employee outreach and treatment. The national average of organizations that offer an EAP is 75%, yet the usage rate is of EAP’s 3.5-5%. This is due in large part to stigma.
Stigma is also responsible for developing a strong tendency toward placing a stereotype on a person with mental illness, resulting in bullying, harassment, potential loss of employment, and workplace intimidation. Stigma may also contribute to severe financial consequences and can be detrimental to an organization if left unchallenged.
Often, employees suffering from mental illness stay silent and suffer alone. Lack of disclosure of the mental illness from the employee to the employer limits the employer’s ability to accommodate the worker. This is a challenge that can lead to decreased concentration, productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, workplace accidents, and mistakes.
Fear, shame, and stigma are large barriers for employees to overcome to be able to take the first step to seek help.
In 2007, the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health in the United States conducted a survey of HR Managers. In the survey, 8 in 10 respondents revealed that shame, stigma, and fear of ramifications may be the cause of employees not seeking treatment for mental illness. A more recent study done by the Disability Management Employer Coalition suggests the degree of stigma associated with mental illness has not waned.
Society also plays a large role in the negative perception of mental illness. The risk factors and symptoms of common illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are widely known. On the contrary, there are gaps in the lack of knowledge of the risk factors and symptoms associated with mental illness. Consequently, many myths, fears, and stigma still exist around mental illness.
To combat this in the workplace, organizations can choose to engage in a mental health literacy program. A mental health literacy program provides education to organizations that can aid in the recognition and management of disorders associated with mental illness. Increased mental health literacy increases the dissemination of more accurate information and can be a catalyst to lessening the stigma around mental health in the workplace. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI provides education, advocacy, free information, support, and public awareness events.
Commitment to employee wellness is a topic of organizational discussion that is gaining increased interest in research. Towers Watson 2013, global Staying @ Work survey found that “establishing a culture of health is a top priority for organizations” (Garrow, 2016). Research conducted by the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), shows organizational support to be an “important mediator in presenteeism” (Garrow, 2016). Specifically, support from the top leadership that cascades throughout the culture of the organization.
Business leaders have a duty to implement a mental health strategy and consider mental health as an ongoing educational process. Leaders should feel empowered to make the changes required to build and sustain a mentally healthy workforce capable of increased productivity due to positive mental health. It’s good for the bottom line…
Kim LaMontagne, MBA – Speaker, Teacher, Consultant, Contributing Author, Survivor
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About the author:
Kim has devoted her life to helping others survive and thrive in the face of mental illness. After suffering in silence with anxiety, major depression, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol abuse disorder, Kim has found recovery and a life of true happiness. A consistent ‘top performer’ and winner of several Directors and Peer Choice Awards within her organization, Kim suffered alone in the workplace because of shame and fear of stigma. Her professional performance never wavered, but inside she was broken, empty, and on the verge of giving up. Kim shares her story of recovery to help others find the courage, power, and strength to rise above the fear, stigma, and shame of mental illness.
Kim is a Speaker, Teacher and Advocate with National Alliance on Mental Illness, New Hampshire chapter, an Ambassador, Speaker, and Member of the Advisory Board of Worth Living Mental Health, a Member of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Health System Campaign to Combat Stigma and Discrimination in Behavioral Health, Contributing Author and Survivor.
She is a frequent speaker at conferences and conducts onsite workplace mental health presentations. She has written several blogs about mental health and recently conducted her first podcast.
Kim believes we must start the conversation now about mental health.
Especially in the workplace.
You are not alone and life is Worth Living.
References: Garrow, V. (2016) Presenteeism A review of current thinking, Institute for Employment Studies, Feb 2016, Report 507, Available at: http://www.employment-studies.co.uk/system/files/resources/files/507_0.pdf (Accessed: 1 February 2017).