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  • Tamar Balkin

I Wasn’t Going To Blog Today, But I'm Worried About The STIGMA Around Mental Illness At Work

During afternoon tea a few months ago at the Sydney Wellbeing at Work Event, I was discussing the parallels between diabetes and mental illness in the workplace  and a marvellous woman quietly said to me, "Tamar, there is one massive difference - diabetes doesn't have a  STIGMA."

On reflection I realised that in most cases:

  • The diabetic will tell their employer of their diabetes when they are employed the employee with a mental illness will not.

  • The diabetic will tell people at work when they are starting to feel unwell the employee with a mental illness will not. 

  • The colleagues of a person with diabetes will be informed as to how to look after them as a unique individual in an emergency  employee with mental illness will not have told anyone anything.

These are generalisations and stereotypes, which I typically shy way from, yet based on the evidence I heard yesterday at the event, the stigma of mental illness at work is more prevalent that we realise.

My challenge for you all is to think about what practical steps you can take today to reduce the stigma of mental illness in the workplace.

Here are a few ideas to get you started 

  1. In an emergency situation when you need to refer someone to the EAP or a crisis service, ask them if they would like you to be with them when they seek help, in the same way that treat them the way you would had they  broken their leg at work.

  2. When someone tells you they have a mental illness listen with empathy and curiosity and ask them how and what they want to share with colleagues. 

  3. Check in with any staff on parental leave or who is a parent of very young children - don’t assume someone else is looking out for post natal depression

Rob Stevenson has established a social enterprise Inside Out   with in the UK a mission of ending the stigma of mental ill-health in the workplace by creating a ripple effect of senior leaders who are willing to speak out about their own lived experience. 

"Each year, we publish a list of senior leaders from our workplaces who are open about their experience of mental ill-health. The list is designed to celebrate each leader who has decided to be open, thus playing their part in ending the stigma and helping others in their organisation speak out and seek help. We will grow the list each year, creating a ripple effect of more and more executives speaking out until it is as normal to talk about mental ill-health in the business world as it is to disclose a broken leg."

Please  email me your individual, workplace and/or industry level initiatives to reduce the STIGMA associated with mental illness.

Australian resources:

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