How to raise awareness and lessen stigma about mental health

mental-health-top-tips-poster-talk-about-your-feelings copyWhen I asked what I should write about when it comes to mental health in the workplace, this was one of the topics suggested. It’s an important one because it is still not easy to broach the subject, despite the fact that a lot more is being done these days to help raise awareness and disseminate information.

For example, in June 2018 the WHO published the Mental Health Atlas, a report looking at the state of mental health in 194 member countries, and the structures in place to support policy making and planning (amongst others). It comes as no surprise that there is not yet enough in terms of trained health workers, and community support. Nevertheless the WHO’s “Mental Health action plan 2013-2020 “ shows that the problem is recognized on a global level, and that a concerted effort is needed in order to change the current trend. Here are the 3 “top” things I would do to help raise awareness & lessen the stigma.

  1. Educate yourself. Often there is a pre-conception that having a mental health issue is “being crazy” or that there’s “something wrong with you”, and not in a good way. There are a multitude of helpful resources out there to teach you more about mental health, what it is, and is not. Starting for example with the Mental Health Foundation in the UK who organise mental health awareness week. There is also the British charity Mind, the US government information website, Mental Health America charity and many more. One of my all time favourites are these illustrations called “Real Monsters” by Toby Allen. They are simple and yet hit the nail on the head so well. Finally there are people (online and offline) who are mental health advocates and may be able to provide you with more information. Here are a few I follow on Twitter: Paula Meier (London), David Susman (US) and Brien Blatt (US).
  2. Talk about it. Talking about it is the best thing we can do to help raise awareness and lessen the stigma. The more we talk about it openly, it will become a regular part of conversation. The more others will feel able to open up about their experiences, and the better people will start to understand and accept that having a mental health problem doesn’t put you in the loony bin. I decided to open up about having anxiety after realizing that many people in my surroundings had suffered in silence one way or another. By sharing my experience I wanted to help “normalize” it and make others feel comfortable opening up about theirs.
  3. Be ready to understand and be accepting. It’s not easy if someone decides to tell you they have a mental health issue, whether it’s anxiety, depression or something else. You have to put aside your judgment and pre-conceptions and try to listen openly without thinking “oh well this must be the cause” or “they can’t have tried hard enough”. Try to understand where they’re coming from and accept that this situation is very real to the other person. Accept that they may also not have fully come to terms with what’s happening, or that they may not know how to deal with it either, it takes time to understand things about yourself. But if you can show acceptance and be ready to listen, it will help people feel more comfortable about opening up, that it’s ok to be going through this, and that they are supported.

What about you, how do you think we can raise awareness and lessen the stigma around mental health?

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