The stigma of mental health

Here we are in the 21st century, 2021, in the middle of a global pandemic.

Yet why is there still so much stigma attached to mental health?

Looking at mental health and the stigma around mental health is something which we do during our management mental health training. And it’s always really interesting to hear the views of managers around the world from different industries share their experiences of mental health from both social and cultural vantage points.

Thinking of where we are all at right now in the world, navigating our way through this pandemic and mental health is in the spot light, but still with an under current of stigma.

We’re not robots!. We are designed as humans to experience emotion and that’s what makes us human!. And it’s normal that our emotions are going to fluctuate on a daily basis.

Sometimes our emotions fluctuate too much and we get stuck in the stress response, and when we do then of course our mental health is going to be compromised. We’re not going to be able to access the executive functions of the brain, we’re going to struggle to regulate our emotional responses and that spills out into our physical health.

Therefore understanding that this is a very normal and a natural thing, why is there still such a tumultuous label when it comes to mental health?

Perhaps if we take a big step back and think about the history of mental health.

One insight that a manager on our management mental health training recently shared with us was about how he’d struggled with depression for over 30 years.

And for over 30 years, not even his wife knew that he had depression. This manager had previously worked in industries such as banking and wall street. He described those industries and types of jobs where you face continuous rejection in. He described them as very masculine environments where there’s a lot of competition.

Back then saying that you’ve got depression was akin to putting your head above the parapet to be shot. The manager described being so terrified of being judged, of being perceived to be weak, to be less than that that fear kept him in a holding place for such a long time until he reached the point where he knew he couldn’t carry on.

He decided enough is enough.

What was beautiful about his story is when he reached the point where decided he had nothing to lose anymore by saying, he found the opposite of what he feared. He didn’t find judgment. He didn’t find discrimination. He found compassion. He found empathy. He found understanding.

He could finally breathe a sigh of relief and start to change the inner landscape of his mind and go on a journey of discovery to find a happier place.

Take another example of the working environment of Goldman Sachs which came under huge scrutiny in 2015 when an analyst, who was only 22, took his own life after working flat out 80 to 100 hours a week.

At the time there was an unspoken expectation that if you want to work at Goldman Sachs, if you want to be at the best, to raise your profile, get the promotion, the salary, this is what’s expected of you.

You are expected to pick up calls at a weekend. You’re expected to answer emails late at night. You’re expected to perform in a way that is simply not sustainable.

80 hour working weeks are not sustainable!

Ironically operating in that way is not high performance! Working 80 to a 100 hours a week is the opposite of high performance.

Another manager from our management mental health training recalled that previously when people had a mental health condition, you were told to ‘get over it’.

The messages you received growing up create a blue print

What messages did we receive about mental health? Especially the messages about being a man about what it meant to be a man?. Did you hear ‘Man up’? ‘Men don’t show emotion’? ‘Emotion is a weakness’?

Having worked privately with many men who have struggled with their mental health, it’s often taken them quite a long time to finally get help. This is generally due to the ostrich approach to problem solving – bury your head in the sand and hope that these feelings will go away.

However as we know with mental health, problems don’t go away. Quite the opposite.

Yet when a person finally takes that courageous brave step to reach out, it’s like breathing a huge sigh of relief.

When a person begins to learn about the mind and the body, working with a therapist to understand what’s really happening at a physiological level and at a neurological, problems start to dissolve! Knowledge as they say is powerful!

Fear of being labeled

Fear is a powerful driver in human experience. We are driven by fear than anything else because our basic instinct is survival.

Therefore when it comes to mental health and the stigma of mental health it’s understandable what stops us from speaking out.

The fear of being treated differently; the fear of being discriminated against; the fear of what will happen if I say that I’m not okay; the fear I might lose my job; the fear that I won’t get the promotion; the fear that I’m not going to get put on the good projects; the fear of rejection.

Fear acts as a concrete barrier to us putting ourselves in a place of vulnerability.

Despite different initiatives such as the ‘me too movement’ and ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and more public figures stepping forward to share their experience of mental health we still have the fear of being labelled.

The solution?

Knowledge is power

Therefore a big part of de stigmatising mental health comes from education and training.

Educating people about the mind and the body, helping employees to understand why we think, feel, and behave the way that we do.

Empowering people with the knowledge of how to create change within the inner landscape.

We also have to make that commitment to education and training on a consistent basis. It’s not enough to run one webinar or a mental health awareness and expect everybody to suddenly understand mental health!

The brain needs to hear something between 7 and 15 times to really integrate that understanding.

Review organisational culture

We often hear this term ‘top down’.

Therefore what are the unspoken agreements and expectations about how people show up, how available and on call they should be, how many hours we expect them to put in.

Are organisations and the leaders really walking the talk?

We want people to thrive. We want people to be at their best. We want people to be happy and engaged and enjoying their work. We want people to be creative, innovative, solution orientated, firing on all four cylinders, and engaged mentally, physically and emotionally.

Yet when we are living in the stress response, when we’re living in survival mode then we’re not able to be the best version of ourselves.

Therefore as organisational leaders we need to really understand what it take to create a high performing team and equip people with the knowledge and skills to proactively build health, resilience and wellbeing.

We are seeing more organisational leaders speaking out about their own experiences of mental health and what they learned from it and how it made them a stronger person at the end of the day.

The more that we are willing to be vulnerable, the more that we are willing to be authentic about ourselves the more that we are going to create the culture where it’s safe to be vulnerable

Be the change you want to see in the world!

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