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Is There a Stigma Towards Mental Health In Work?


Is There a Stigma Towards Mental Health In Work?

Mental health problems are widespread; almost every second person you encounter knows someone with some sort of mental heath condition.  In the last decade there has been less of a stigma associated with mental health issues, but it is still a matter which needs to be discussed in the workplace.  The British health insurer BUPA conducted a study which showed that 94 percent of UK business professionals discriminated against people in their workplace with mental health problems.  The business leaders said they want to establish and welcome a more open environment for people with emotional difficulties.  Although seven out of ten employees said they felt unable to approach their colleague to speak to them about their problems.  The business leaders said they felt they had to tread carefully around their employees with mental health issues, and one in five managers said they didn’t speak to these employees.

In Ireland, a study by the Association for Higher education Access & Disability (AHEAD) in 2010 discovered that two-thirds of Irish people with mental health issues would not discuss them at work.  The survey found that 78 percent of people think that mental health problems are discriminated against in the workplace.  About 35 percent of managers said they wouldn’t feel happy about hiring someone with mental health difficulties. So it is unsurprising then that so many employees don’t disclose their problems to their bosses.

AHEAD’s Assistant Director Mary Quirke says “ Recruiting people with mental health difficulties is often thought of as risky,  however, it is worth stating that the same prejudices prevail in relation to other disabilities also.”  Ms Quirke manages their programme Willing Able Mentoring (WAM) which enables people with disabilities access to the work place.

Another organisation called See Change helps to promote positive attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health difficulties.  They performed a study in 2012 which monitored Irish attitudes to mental health in the workplace.  They found that 57 percent of people felt unable to discuss their mental health issues at work, because they thought it would affect their career opportunities.  About 47 percent of people said they were afraid it would have a negative impact on their relationships with their colleagues and boss.

Sorcha Lowry, Campaign Manager at See Change says “We have seen increased fear and reluctance around disclosure, which we attribute to the increase workplace pressures and insecurity that came with recession.  What we hear from employers and managers is fear and frustration around not knowing what to say or how to support someone that they’ve noticed is struggling.  The hardest thing is often not knowing how to deal with someone who, due to their own self-stigma, will never come to management and open up.  When it is not named, it is much harder to put the right supports in place.”

The project manager for the “My Mind at Work” initiative Tess Brady says “Over the past 10 years, Ireland has undergone a huge change in attitude towards mental health. Thanks to advocacy by individuals and mental health organisations, we’re increasingly aware of the prevalence and the manifestation of mental health difficulties. Although the national conversation around mental health has begun to reduce stigma, the structures and supports aren’t necessarily there to support people who are looking for help. This is how the stigma endures. Without adequate mental health support both inside and outside of work, employees are reluctant to discuss any challenges they may be facing with their employer.”

It is important that we continue to develop our consideration for people with mental health issues in the workplace.  When we discriminate against people who are different and more emotionally vulnerable, we separate them from us, and this could cause them to isolate themselves further.  Life can be challenging at times and for some people, it can be harder than others.  When we are open to people’s feelings we grow in compassion and understanding.  While you probably can’t take their problems away, it can help to show them some kindness and support.

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