Despite 9 years of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign and improved awareness of mental health overall, many barriers still exist to depleting stigma in today’s workplace. The term ‘mental health’ continues to be a hurdle as, to many, it implies mental illness. In reality, the topic of Mental health affects everyone in the workplace in some way. Everything from being anxious ahead of high-pressure moments to struggling with mental illness, or knowing a colleague who’s experiencing challenges, the impact of mental health is heavily felt in the workplace.
Yet despite its prevalence, the stigma associated with mental health has perpetuated myths that keep employees from reaching out when they need support.
Here are 5 common myths of mental health in the workplace:
1. Talking my mental health with colleagues or leadership could make things weird or jeopardize my growth in my job
People generally spend between 50-70% of their waking hours during weekdays at work. Think about that. The majority of our time is spent at work, yet it’s the most difficult setting for us to be vulnerable because we know our employers value strength and reliability. It can be scary to open up to managers or co-workers for fear of judgement, but we also know mental health concerns are extremely common and understood by employers.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 1 in 5 Canadians will personally struggle with mental health or illness this year. Talking about what you’re going through, even if it’s just the minutia of daily stress, can help to normalize these experiences and build a support system to help you be at your best.
2. I need a diagnosis before I can address my mental health
Back to the fact that mental health is much more than mental illness, there’s an entire spectrum to mental health where people can find themselves at extremes, or somewhere in the middle. But no matter where we find ourselves, there are actions we can take to build resilience and be at our best, no matter what.
Though a diagnosis isn’t a requirement to take care of your mental health, when complications arise it’s important to talk to doctors or healthcare providers. Like anything, early recognition is important for offering support and can mitigate the negative impact mental health issues can cause.
3. Mental health issues or struggles are something you have or don’t have, and cannot be prepared for
Preventive care is crucial to our overall wellness. Often when our lives inevitably get busy, stressful or overwhelming, our health is the first thing we sacrifice. This self-sacrifice often comes at the expense of our mental well-being, and we suffer for it.
Building self-care into our routine can help us prepare for the hard times. A good self-care routine will help to avoid burnout, as well as identify social supports and builds up coping skills. This way, when life tosses a curve ball our way, these practiced routines can help preserve mental health and build resilience.
4. If I’ve experienced a mental illness, I’m a less valued employee
As with physical ailments, many mental illnesses can be recovered from with various treatments, services, and supports. Many mental health complications are temporary and never return. Though some conditions are considered chronic, symptoms can be effectively managed so we’re at our best—at home and at work.
In fact, the CMHA says employees who experience a mental illness can actually be better at managing their stress than employees who don’t, due to the fact they’ve already developed strong skills like stress management, problem-solving, and introspection to proactively manage pressure before it affects their well-being.
5. It’s inappropriate to reach out to colleagues on leave
If a coworker is on mental health leave, it is worthy of privacy and respect just like any other leave. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t or shouldn’t reach out.
If you have a pre-existing personal relationship outside the office with a colleague who is taking some time away from work, keep in touch as you normally would. Be respectful, but its completely ok to act as you normally would in your relationship with that person. Normalizing your communications with a colleague or friend on mental health leave will help them feel supported and less alienated upon return to work.
If you don’t have a relationship with someone outside the office who’s taken leave, there is often contact information or instructions given to get in touch with that person while they’re away. Reach out to your Human Resources representative to learn the individual’s preferences, or check in with your team to send a collective get-well card. The well wishes will be warmly regarded by the recipient, personal relationship or not.