Mental Health and Challenging the Stigma in the Workplace
Challenging the Stigma in the Workplace
By Edwin C Mercurio
The fast pace of communications and the rapidly changing economic, socio-cultural and political structures impact our mental health in the workplace.
For many of us, balancing our responsibilities at work and our duties at home can create tremendous strain on our daily lives as well as our relationship with the significant other person.
Immigrants to Canada particularly from third world countries are basically resilient due to the hardships they have undergone in their own countries prior to their migration to Canada. But it is well recognized from research and official findings that there is a breaking point to stress and fatigue.
Some of the problems faced by those suffering from mental illness can be aggravated by the lack of understanding of their basic and fundamental rights. Understanding these rights will greatly benefit any worker and possibly minimize workplace harassment, abuse and or reduce mental and workplace stress.
Another factor which works against the condition of people with mental illness is the stigma brought about by the lack of understanding and ignorance of other people or co-workers. Many people suffering from depression and mental illness report that the stigma of being branded as mentally ill is worse than the illness itself. People are known to be less willing to offer support and empathy if someone is known to be suffering from a mental illness rather than those who are having physical health problems.
Persons who are suffering from mental health problems should seek professional help or talk to persons whom they can trust. It is vitally important that personal or social support networks are established at the earliest possible time. There are other established support networks that can be utilized by those who feel their workplace contributes to their stressful conditions or mental health problems. The Ontario Human Rights Code offers a lot of support for workers who may be subjected to harassment, discrimination, racism as well as physical and verbal abuse in the workplace.
Excerpts from Ontario Human Rights Code: www.ohrc.on.ca/en:
*Employment 5. (1) Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.
*Harassment in employment: 5. (2) Every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.
*Reprisals: 8. Every person has a right to claim and enforce his rights under this Act, to institute and participate in proceedings under this Act and to refuse to infringe a right of another person under this Act, without reprisal or threat of reprisal for so doing.
In some cases, when a worker is affected by mental health problems, the lack of understanding from both co-employees and management can aggravate the condition. Workplace management is duty bound to help implement the worker’s right to accommodation as set out in the Policy and Guidelines of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. These resources are available at www.ohrc.ca/en/resources/Policies/PolicyDisAccom2?page=PolicyDisAccom2-THE.htm#Heading165. The worker’s labour or trade union must be involved and can greatly help in the implementation of the policy and guidelines.
Challenging Stigma of Mental Illness in the Workplace
The attempt to label a particular group of people as less worthy of respect than others is called Stigma. It is called a mark or sign of shame, disapproval or disgrace and results in discrimination or rejection. It is also seen as attempts to marginalize, exclude or exercise power over individuals who are different in some way from others. Some of the known characteristics associated with stigma or discrimination include physical or mental illness, intellectual or physical disability, race, gender, sexuality or religion.
Mental illness often generates prejudice, misunderstanding, confusion and fear.
Each of us has our own individual threshold. No one can say with surety and finality that he/she will be immune to the possibility of having mental health problems. But there are important guidelines for all of us to adhere to or to watch out for. One of them is called the HALT method.
HALT means...(when signs of depression, personal, financial, mental and psychological, marital or social anxiety creep in), one must try to avoid these conditions:
One must avoid being too Hungry
One must avoid being too Angry
One must avoid being too Lonely
One must avoid being too Tired
Following these guidelines will HALT one's downward trend towards Depression and Mental Illness and will help ensure that we keep our body, mind, and spirit healthy at all times.