World Mental Health Day (#ItsOkayNotToBeOkay #WorldMentalHealthDay) is something that everyone can participate in to raise awareness, combat stigma, feelings of shame and normalise discussions about mental health.
We all have periods in our lives where our mental health may be affected negatively by life experiences. We may feel extremely low in mood, feel frightened or be affected by high, regular stress levels. In general, these feelings pass, but sometimes they do develop into more serious problems which people will need help managing and getting through.
Shame and mental health
What prevents people from talking to their managers or their friends or families or colleagues? Due to the stigma around mental health and socio-cultural pressure to be ‘perfect’, shame is often felt by those who are affected.
Shame is a self-conscious emotion (like guilt, humiliation and embarrassment) that affects self-esteem, self-concept and evaluation of the self. People become afraid of social rejection and threats to their social status and sense of belonging – which then becomes the core reason why they are unable to talk about their mental health and seek help.
Shame is commonly seen in mental health diagnoses such as depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance use disorders and eating disorders. Employers need to consider this when setting up programmes, processes and initiatives to encourage people to talk about mental health in the workplace. If they don’t, then initiatives are barely going to make a dent into the problem of reaching people with mental health concerns, and we are not going to be able to reduce the stigma around mental health issues.
How to start a conversation about mental health
On the 10th of October try to set aside some time (even if it is just 5 to 10 minutes) to discuss mental health with colleagues, friends and community groups. Try and come up with ways of normalising mental health discussions, so people don’t feel like they have let themselves or others down by having a mental health issue. Try and reduce the fear you and others may feel about mental health concerns. Perhaps you can run a series of staff stories? Maybe you can invest in workshops that explore self-esteem and confidence? You could even think about how you manage expectations around staff performance in the workplace? If none of these options seem possible this year, maybe just try being kind to yourself for the day.
It just takes a few steps to make it easier for people to talk about their mental health, and it can help promote inclusive workplaces and organisations in the process.