🎯 Mental health stigma refers to the bad things that are associated with a mental health struggles.
For example, if you prefer to say you had a migraine or that you had thrown your back out, then mental health stigma affects you in some way.
Even if you do not personally judge someone for their mental health struggles, you are aware of the negative assumptions that can come along with it.
Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, says that managers need to be proactive as well as reactive when it comes to mental health. So, don’t just wait to see signs. Destigmatise from today with these simple attitudes and conversations starters.
Easy: Ask, “What makes you feel heard?”
Author and internet personality Hannah Hart grew up with a mother with psychosis. As an adult, she makes a habit of asking the people she’s cares about — however their mental health appears — “What makes you feel heard?”.
Ask this question to each member of your team (and even people in your personal life). This question doesn’t just provide you with insight. It sends the message that we could all have a difficult day one day where we need to be heard.
Intermediate: Make ‘mental health’ a mainstay in your team’s vocabulary
Mental health as a phrase can make people feel uncomfortable. Make sure you talk about how everyone has mental health and that it can change across short and long timescales.
The best way to do this is to model it. Talk about how your holiday was restorative for your mental health. Inspire others by talking about your vulnerabilities or where you felt a dip in your mental health. This is easier to do once a bad patch has passed, but you are pro level if you can talk about it while it’s happening!
Alternatively, ask people “what are you bottling up?”. This phrase is useful because, even though it’s a metaphor, we can physically identify with the feeling of keeping things inside ourselves and under pressure. It’s a more comfortable question than, “how’s your mental health?” and validates ‘everyday’ pressures.
We have different answers to this question week-on-week, making it a great question to ask periodically.
Bottle up by Alexandru Purcarea via Dribbble.
Intermediate: Challenge negative comments or assumptions
It’s evident that to reduce the stigma around mental health, we need to call out gossip, challenge phrases like, “she’s crazy!” and stamp out comments that trivialise distress or a team member taking time out for their mental health.
❌ But we know that appealing to “political correctness” rarely works.
✅ Instead, we need to intervene in a way that stokes empathy, opens dialogue and reminds everyone we’re all involved in mental health and taking care of one another.
Top things to say to challenge stigmatising comments
- Compare the mental health issue to a physical health issue to point out dissonance
- Say, “I feel…”. E.g. “I feel hurt that you made that association.”
- State facts that contradict what they are saying and paint a clearer view of an individual issue or mental health in general.
- Say, “You’re talking about someone I care about/me right now.”
- Say, “You say he is not normal. What is normal anyway?”
Pro: Grant permission to struggle
Coach, public speaker and founder of Breaking the Silence, David Beeney kept his mental health struggles secret for 30 years after his first panic attack aged 24.
After worrying about having panic attacks for three decades, he found something that improved his life exponentially. He now says to tell himself, before an interview or going on stage or a social event, “well have one. Have a panic attack”. He has accepted they are a possibility he can live with. Plus, the cost of not doing things out of fear is greater than the risk that something ‘bad’ might happen.
Give yourself and others permission to have a bad day, to feel down or anxious, without concealment. You’ll decrease the burden of keeping things a secret and worrying about possible outcomes while destigmatising in the process.
The tricky part? You and your team have to believe it. And you have to accept being ambassadors for whatever you are going through!
💬 What do you think?
What steps do you believe we need to take to remove the stigma around mental health?
🗝️ Your key takeaway
Most of us buy into the stigma around mental health even if we don’t personally judge. Easily manageable steps to destigmatise mental health in your team include asking what makes people feel heard, challenging negative associations and putting mental health in your team’s vocabulary.
Free access to Wellbeing Works content
At Hive Learning, we’re passionate about connecting people so they can grow and learn together. That’s why we’ve made some of the content from our Wellbeing Works programme available on the People Leaders Network — an online community for organisational leaders to share insights, challenges, and ideas, so we can collaborate on the best approaches to take in scenarios that have very little precedent. If you’d like to have a look, you can sign up here.
Wellbeing Works gives leaders straight-talking tools, tips and techniques to support mental health and create a culture of candour and trust that enhances employee wellbeing digitally and face-to-face. You can learn more about the programme and request a demo here.
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