For the last six months I have been on an incredible journey and spoken to many amazing people about employee wellbeing. These include hundreds of mental health sufferers, some who have spoken openly about their health to their colleagues and many others who are still too scared or embarrassed to share their suffering. I have also spoken to hundreds of business leaders and HR teams who genuinely want to end stigma and create environments for their people where they can talk openly about their mental health.
Throughout my journey, I have consistently asked ‘what does the stigma look and feel like?’ and I have received many different responses and in some cases puzzled looks. I have equally asked what can we do to change the behaviour and culture to eradicate the stigma from the workplace. Many people have been very honest and admitted that they are not sure they know the answer. Up until last week I wasn’t one hundred per cent sure either but I now believe that I am.
I was on a Mental Health First Aid course last week and we talked openly about the days of racism and sexism in the workplace. Racist comments in an office in 2017 are liable to get you assaulted and if you say something overtly sexist, you are very likely to be reported and face a disciplinary. Consequently, we naturally assume that the answer with mental health stigmatisation is to stop people saying certain words. We even listed them last week on this course and they included words like psycho, nutter, schitzo and so on.
My clients regularly talk about the stigma in their office but I have never heard any of them refer to these sorts of words upsetting them. This is when I realised (although now it seems obvious) that the mental health stigma is not what people say, it’s what they don’t say. In the clear majority of cases people say nothing at all and mental health sufferers are met with an eerie wall of silence. In three words the – STIGMA is SILENCE. The answer is clearly to get more conversation in the work place about mental health. Breaking the Silence WILL Break the Stigma!!!
In my next blog, I will share how I got on in Dublin with the Irish Rugby Team and introduce you to the Pomodoro technique!!
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