Tackling Mental Heath Stigma at Work

Mental health problems at work cost the UK economy billions each year, and they’re increasingly becoming one of the most common reasons for sickness absence.

Emergency services personnel face unique challenges at work which mean they are particularly prone to developing mental health problems because of their jobs. They have an increasing workload, they face ever increasing demands, and they have to deal with traumatic situations often on a daily basis.

All of this occurs in a culture where having time off is frowned upon and where workers believe that they’ll be discriminated against if they speak out about having poor mental health.

Culture in the emergency services

Emergency services personnel are often referred to as ‘heroes’ and there’s a perception that they are somehow superhuman and shouldn’t be affected by things that happen at work. This is of course, a fallacy. They are human beings, and they are just as prone to mental ill health as everyone else, if not more so.

Research from MIND has shown that even though they are more likely to experience mental ill health, they are less likely to take time off work than the general population. They’re twice as likely to identify work as the cause of their mental health problems, and they believe that they’d be treated less favourably at work if they disclosed that they were suffering.

Organisational factors and poor mental health

Exposure to traumatic incidents is not the only factor that causes poor mental health among emergency services personnel. Organisational factors like constant change that’s badly managed, poor leadership, and a blame culture can all contribute to mental ill health.

Tackling mental health stigma in the workplace

Creating a culture where mental wellbeing is given priority and people feel able to talk about their problems makes people feel supported, and creates opportunities for early intervention. Here are some practical steps that organisations can take to promote a mentally healthy workplace and tackle stigma:

Start from the top: Any change in culture needs to start with management. If managers lead by example, prioritise mental wellbeing, and promote a culture of empathy and understanding, employees are more likely to follow suit.

Create a mental health policy: This will reassure employees that an organisation is aware of the importance of mental wellbeing.

Create a culture of openness: This helps to increase awareness of mental health by encouraging people to talk about it.

Promote healthy working practices: Encourage a work/life balance by introducing programmes like mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and exercise into the working day.

Communicate: Raise awareness of mental health using staff newsletters, posters, training sessions and meetings.

Introduce training: This helps to tackle mental health stigma by increasing awareness and understanding of mental ill health. It can also educate people on how to spot the signs that they, or a co-worker might be becoming ill, and empower them to talk about it.

How we can help

We use our expertise in workforce wellbeing, individual and organisational wellbeing, and performance and trauma management to help front-line emergency services staff become better equipped to manage the pressures and challenges they face. The services we offer include tailored support for personnel, their managers and their families, stress-relieving strategies, and therapeutic interventions.

For more information on our work with the emergency services, contact Maureen on 07939 845920 or via maureen@mocallaghan.co.uk , or contact Kirsty Knight on 07816 923789 or at kirsty@openmindstherapy.co.uk