min read
July 28, 2021

Bringing employee mental health into focus — Part 3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Yes, employees need mental health literacy. Two clinical psychologists explain why.

This is the third in a three-part series focused on mental health literacy: what it is, why employees need it, and how to achieve it. Read parts one and two now!

Hopefully, you’ve read the first and second posts in this three-part series on the importance of mental health literacy. If so, you already have a better understanding of why employees need to have it, and two of the skills that will help them attain it:

  1. Recognizing the signs of mental health difficulties  
  2. Cultivating the knowledge to seek and obtain quality mental health care

In this third and final post, Big Health’s Clinical Lead for Sleep Dr. Jennifer Kanady and Clinical Lead for Anxiety Dr. Michelle Davis are focusing on the final skill: how to tackle stigma.

Rejecting stigma.

Dispel unhelpful beliefs that get in the way of achieving a positive mental health outcome.

The third step on a path toward mental health literacy is an employees’ ability to recognize and challenge unhelpful beliefs. Stigma and shame around mental health are destructive because they can lead people to dismiss or ignore their symptoms, and forgo seeking appropriate care. These troubling beliefs about mental health come in three forms:

  • Public: The societal perception that people with mental health conditions are dangerous, incompetent, unpredictable, and to be blamed for their own struggles.
  • Self: A person’s beliefs about their own mental health condition — that they are dangerous, incompetent, and to blame for their own struggles.
  • Institutional: Stereotypes that are embodied in laws and institutions that perpetuate stigma while reducing access to mental health care.

Dr. Kanady highlights that the key to dispelling stigma is “helping employees identify misconceptions when they hear them, and empower them to provide corrective information.”

Here are a few common misconceptions about mental health:

Myth: Panic attacks cause death or loss of control.

Reality: Panic attacks cannot cause death or lead to loss of control.

Myth: Mental health care requires talking about the past.

Reality: Many methods, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are focused on the present and are skills based.

Myth: Going to therapy is selfish or indulgent.

Reality: Taking care of one’s own mental health allows a person to better support others.

Myth: Focusing on anxiety will make it worse.

Reality: Avoiding anxiety keeps it going.

Myth: There’s no way to help a bad sleeper.

Reality: CBT is effective for poor sleep.

Choose words wisely

Employers have an important role to play in decreasing the stigma around poor mental health. Here are a few effective ways of doing so in the workplace:

  • Teach employees about mental health symptoms and care options (more details in part one and two).
  • Empower employees to appropriately talk about mental health with stigma-free language.
  • Encourage employees to respond to stigma when they see or hear it.
  • Publicly contribute to organizations that are fighting mental health stigma and discrimination.

Dr. Kanady says one way to make sure your language is stigma-free is by never equating a person with their condition. “Individuals are so much more than their diagnosis — it doesn’t tell us anything about their demographics, hobbies, or who they are as a person.”

That’s why it’s best to use “person-first language” in all communications and conversations. Help employees say, “a person with schizophrenia” rather than “a schizophrenic” (though some communities prefer “identity-first language,” for example many individuals with Autism prefer the term “Autistic”).

Summing it up

As we stated in the first post of this series, the pandemic has brought up a lot of feelings, leading to an increase in symptoms of mental health conditions. Being able to recognize, define, and address those symptoms in informed, healthy ways is key to an employee’s overall well-being — and the reason why promoting mental health literacy should be a cornerstone of any employer mental health strategy. To reiterate, there are three skills employees should have to achieve mental health literacy:

  • Recognizing the signs of mental health difficulties and when to seek help
  • Cultivating the knowledge to seek and obtain quality mental health care
  • Rejecting stigma, or unhelpful beliefs that get in the way of achieving a positive mental health outcome
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