Workplaces are about people. And building connections between people at work is one way to help address and reduce a variety of issues, including stigma.
Dr. Heather Stuart, a world-renowned leader in mental illness stigma research, has suggested that the best approach for reducing stigma is through contact with people who have experience with mental illness. This contact can be through video resources such as those found in Working Through It* or through live interaction.
The more contact we have, the more we can relate to the stories of people with mental illness - and start to see mental illness as part of the human condition.
The intended outcome of reducing stigma is to end discrimination. But the impact on individuals goes beyond legal ramifications. An end to stigma can actually save lives. Dr. Stuart said, "Most people say that experiencing the stigma about mental illness is worse than the mental illness itself."
Social isolation, being judged as incompetent or unpleasant, or feeling that you are a burden or unwanted all can contribute to feeling that life is not worth living. When we remove the stigma, we can treat mental illness like any other health issue. We can recognize when someone is not well. We can identify resources and supports that are available. And we can help someone in need access those supports.
Clara Hughes is a Canadian Olympian and mental health advocate. Her version of "contact" is to speak at events, on television and radio. She helps to bust stigma by publicly sharing her personal and family stories about her experience with mental illness.
Workplace safety and prevention expert Andrew Harkness believes that it's time to bring mental health issues out of the shadows and into the forefront of workplace occupational health and safety. "Hearing from people like Clara Hughes is helping to clear the decks for issues that have always been there," he said. "Employers are starting to understand that these issues are more costly to them when they aren’t being addressed."
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*Dr. Stuart is not in a position to comment on or endorse Working Through It.