There is a virus that infects many Americans all around the country. This is a virus that “causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control, prevents them from seeking help, and even takes lives.” Anyone can be exposed to it, but the cure is simple – compassion and understanding. Stigma is a “social virus” and this May – National Mental Health Awareness Month – the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) wants you to know there is a cure for Stigma. #CureStigma
Stigma is defined as a sign or sense of disgrace that sets someone apart from others. For the 60 million people in the United States that face the day-to-day reality of living with a mental illness, revealing their illness to others can be frightening, not knowing how their disclosure will be received. This fear can be especially present in the workplace where employees are afraid of discrimination and potentially losing their jobs.
Mental illness is the single greatest cause of worker disability in the United States. Less than one-third of workers with mental illness seek treatment, with the most often cited reason as “shame and stigma.” When employees do not receive proper treatment, their illness continues and impacts their productivity, absenteeism, and even safety on the job. Human Resource professionals, as leaders in their organizations, can have a great impact helping to curb the stigma that employees may fear.
HR Florida is continuing its partnership with NAMI Florida to promote the Stigma Free Florida campaign. Stigma Free Florida is a campaign aimed at business leaders and seeks to create stigma free workplaces through awareness and education. The Stigma Free Florida toolkit has information for business leaders, managers, and employees on mental health issues in the workplace and how to assist an employee who might be dealing with mental illness.
As an HR professional, there are a few things you can do to help your organization take steps to become Stigma Free:
- Begin an open conversation. Start the conversation about mental illness and its prevalence. One in five Americans deals with a mental illness every year; many more are family members and care-givers to someone with a mental illness. Let employees know who to reach out to for more information should they have questions about medical benefits, accommodations, or an Employee Assistance Program. By beginning the conversation, employees might feel more comfortable asking about available resources and necessary accommodations.
- Check your language. Words can be very stigmatizing to individuals with mental illness. Examples include, “With her mood swings, she must be bipolar.” “His OCD kicked in and he’s reorganizing the supply room.” “She’s just crazy.” These general statements referencing mental illness in a joking and often negative way can prevent someone from coming forward to say that they are dealing with a mental illness for fear that they too will be talked about. Make it known that your culture does not tolerate these types of comments.
- Market your EAP. Having an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a wonderful employee benefit. However, most EAP’s are horribly underutilized. Market your EAP to your employees to keep it top of mind for employees. Ensure they know what benefits are available to them and how to access those benefits.
- Take the Pledge. Pledge to do your part to stop stigma in your organization by signing the #StigmaFreeFlorida. Partner with NAMI Florida to bring educational resources into your organization to learn more about how you can help employees and their families. Educate supervisors on signs and symptoms, as well as steps to take for employees who do disclose a mental illness.
This Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s do our part to #CureStigma and create a #StigmaFreeFlorida.
For more ways on how you can promote a Stigma Free organization and to sign the #StigmaFreeFlorida Pledge, check out: http://namiflorida.org/stigma-free-florida.php
To learn more about the NAMI Cure Stigma campaign, and find out if you have been infected, visit: https://www.curestigma.org/
*Statistics regarding mental illness from NAMI
Eve Sweeting is the Diversity Director for HR Florida. With over a decade of HR experience in private, public, and non-profit entities, Eve currently serves as an HR Analyst with a focus in performance management and workforce metrics. She believes that HR’s ability to impact the work environment for the better can benefit both workers and organizations.