Stigma can be one of the greatest barriers to psychological health and safety in the workplace, especially for employees with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Eliminating stigma while increasing mental health awareness can support employees to seek help sooner, recover faster and maintain productivity. May is mental health awareness month, so we’re sharing a helpful stigma-reducing action plan from Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.
Workplaces can benefit by fostering an attitude of support for employees who are struggling with mental health concerns in the following ways:
- Reduced turnover and costs associated with recruitment and training
- Attraction of qualified talent who prefer a workplace that supports mental health
- Reduced sick leave as employees are supported to remain productive at work
- Avoidance of violations related to human rights
- Corporate and social responsibility in providing a workplace that is supportive of all employees
- Enhanced customer service when employees are healthier and happier at work
- Improved performance by supporting employees to contribute their best work.
Employees may be afraid to reach out for help, yet the majority of mental illnesses can be treated, allowing employees to recover and remain productive at work. Here are five steps you can take to start reducing the stigma of mental health at your organization.
1. Assess the current situation.
A survey or other method of assessment of stigma in the workplace should look at:
- The level of understanding employees have about mental health and mental illness
- Experiences of both discrimination and diversity. Examples can be found under “Discrimination prevention and inclusivity.”
- Unsubstantiated fears of violence related to mental illness
- Perception that employees with mental health issues cannot function or perform their duties
- Fear or shame that may prevent someone from seeking assistance
- Rates of promotion or career advancement for employees who have mental health issues as compared to employees of similar qualifications
- Management’s usual response to an employee who has mental health issues
- Specific areas of concern like discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, trauma, burnout and other negative impacts to employee health and well-being.
2. Create a plan of action.
- Identify champions—Who is going to lead this initiative within the organization?
- Estimate resources—What will the staff effort and time commitment be for each activity?
- Include a timeline and budget—The more directly the workplace addresses key areas of concern, the better the return on investment can be.
- Create a timeline for all activities.
- Set milestones to celebrate results.
- Estimate the cost for each activity, including training, special events and promotional and support materials.
- Identify key issues.
- Set goals—Include measures for success.
- Develop key messages—These should resonate with employees, support goals and be clear and consistent. Language should always be respectful.
- Draw on others’ expertise—Find out about local chapters of organizations to assist employees with mental health concerns.
3. Implement and communicate the plan.
- Engage employees—Share goals, benefits and details of how staff can become involved as well as how results will be measured.
- Build momentum—Post awareness materials and listings of staff training opportunities and events in high-visibility locations (coffee rooms, intranet, etc.).
- Communicate often—Include key messages throughout all staff communications.
- Recognize achievements—Follow through on plans to recognize accomplishments and progress.
4. Evaluate the plan.
It is important to make sure that the plan is effective and efficient and that it remains flexible enough to accommodate changes or improvements.
- Take stock—Review accomplishments and progress.
- Respond—Address challenges and celebrate achievements.
- Reassess—Repeat the original survey to assess change and progress.
- Modify—Analyze new survey results and modify strategies as required.
5. Maintain the plan.
Plan maintenance should include a focus on long-term outcomes. These efforts should:
- Be clear and consistent about the organization’s position on stigma reduction
- Validate staff efforts by sharing the results (e.g., posters, intranet, etc.)
- Be flexible and responsive to changes that affect the workplace
- Include training and support for leaders to continue the effort
- Assign champions to keep the initiative alive.
Adapted from Developing a Stigma Reduction Initiative, courtesy of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA Pub. No. SMA-4176. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006.
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