Your colleagues probably know how your children are doing, what your dog did to your shoes yesterday, and what you are going to give your Mom for Christmas. They may even know about your gout. But the one thing they are unlikely to be aware of is your mental health condition. In this day and age, having one means something extremely shameful, and the stigma at work is a problem for many an American.
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Few employees dare to disclose their mental health problems. The issue is surrounded by a stigma, rendering such conditions a top secret.
While diseases are not always a staple of office chat, most things related to your body conventionally have the right to be discussed: it is OK to take a day off because of an arthritis flare, you are likely to ask your colleagues to sign your cast when you break your arm, and even letting your team know you threw up after eating suspicious tacos is not a big deal. It is normal to have health problems. We are only human, after all.
But mental health is different. You cannot simply say that you are having a panic attack and would like to go home. Neither is it possible to declare you cannot stop crying in an office toilet and need a break. Chances are your official excuse will be upset stomach or back problems. Perhaps, one of the few health issues that can compete with mental health conditions is hemorrhoids. All others pale into insignificance.
What is it that makes people suffering from mental health problems stigmatized? Perhaps, it is the media that are to blame. We are used to the idea that mental health conditions can affect either those who have no home or abuse alcohol, or some eccentric celebrities among whom bipolar disorder and depression are common (at least this is what we see in newspapers every day).
But an average person is not supposed to have such problems. They can have anything from Crohn’s to asthma, but not mental problems, because they make you strange and suspicious.
According to NAMI, one in five Americans reports suffering from a mental health condition, and these figures are even more alarming in other statistics. Given its prevalence, is it really that surprising that the average office has several team members with such problems?
Thus, the image of a person with a mental health disorder is distorted in the society. In fact, it is nearly everyone who is prone to it, and failing to admit that we can be weak not only physically, but also mentally, is what makes us deem mental issues something shameful.
It is not that running around gleefully in your office and cheerfully announcing that you have anxiety is a way out. The message many American individuals and organizations striving to de-stigmatize mental problems want to convey is that it is normal for an employee – or even the CEO – to admit having mental health conditions. It is a thing that calls for treatment, but hiding it behind some other, less shameful excuse aggravates the situation.
Instead, supporting those who need help and being kind to them is what can help these employees recover. The stigma surrounding the problem makes its management more difficult, and building an environment where people can be helped, not fired because of panic attacks, is what can help overcome this problem. Many people do not seek treatment because they are ashamed of admitting they need it, and poor culture of workplace mental health contributes to it.