The Elephant in the Room: Reducing stigma through sharing.

October 28, 20200 CommentMental health

Experiencing mental health problems can be a very isolating experience. Sometimes people need to see something physical that shows them they are not alone in their experiences. One of the popular activities we do as part of the Thriving Minds program is Elephant in the Room.

In this activity we invite people to share on the Active & Thriving feed what stops them talking about their mental health or what they believe is stopping people generally talking about mental health. This sharing of ideas and feelings is a way of normalising people’s concerns in a safe community and starts to reduce the stigma in a positive way. 

This is just a snapshot of the responses we have received:

Kelly – I can say from experience that, you try not to talk about it as you do not want to bring anyone down. If people are smiling and happy around you then you will prefer to bottle up your own emotions so that you do not ruin their day and put them in a low mood. Sometimes when you are dealing with Mental Health it can be hard to remember that your family, friends and colleagues are there for you. They DO care and want to help you if they can even if it is just by lending an ear so you can voice how you are feeling. 9 times out of 10 even just doing that releases the anxiety of being alone and allows the person to continue their day with less weight on their shoulders. On the flip side of this sometimes it can be hard to talk too because you don’t always know how to put into words what you are feeling.

Leon – The fear of being treated differently, or of being hurt further often impacts my ability to discuss mental health. Some people do take advantage of vulnerability, and sometimes it is very hard to describe; wanting to talk doesn’t mean the skills are there to actually talk about it.

Skye Lack of understanding about mental health and the judgements people can make because of it.

Mel As someone with long term “experience” of mental health issues, navigating the health and assistance sector, employment, education and social circles, I believe people are hesitant to talk about mental health (personally) in the workplace due to:

  • Fear of being judged, or labelled, or perceived as somehow a “different person” by admitting to a diagnosis (eg, does my contribution mean less if you know I suffer social anxiety)
  • Fear of being misunderstood (eg oh my aunt has bi-polar so you must be x,y,z.) Even the same diagnosis can look different in individuals.
  • Belief that you/your contributions will be overlooked, negated or watered down because you are somehow not as “normal” as your colleagues (eg, if they find out I have depression, I might not get that promotion)
  • Concern that sharing your diagnosis and experience may upset, “trigger” or negatively impact those around you (eg, oh you think you have it bad, do you?)
  • Fear that any leave will be seen as related to your mental health, even though that may not be the case (PS – Mental health does sometimes need sick leave to deal with, too)

Bernadette – For me, when I was suffering post natal depression with my first born I was ashamed and really thought something was wrong with me. That I was not a good mother. When I got help it put things into perspective and I was hyper-aware of my moods following the twins and got help very early when I developed signs of depression. Now I make sure that I tell people about my experience in case it helps them and to encourage people to check in on their mental health.

Lourdes – Scared and too embarrassed of being judged by others. Denial . Embarrassed to ask for needing support . Ignorance and limited awareness regarding mental health. The feeling of shame and embarrassment.

Olimpia – I would think most people don’t talk about mental health or even mental fatigue because it would be seen as if they don’t have the skillsets or capacity to get the job done or do it well. Potentially look weak next to other colleagues. The fear of losing their job over it. A belief that if you disclose mental illness you will have to explain it constantly or have people tiptoe around you which will make you, even more, self-conscious. From the US – going away from work for a time for mental R&R or other physical ailments is seen as a ‘cop out’ / something people do who want freebie time off or don’t want to work hard. Unsure if that’s how it’s seen here as well but I”m glad there is more normalisation around it.

Sandra – I think talking about mental health in the workplace requires a huge amount of trust that many people aren’t prepared to put in their colleagues. If you’re already in a vulnerable place your ability to think rationally about your situation is impaired and you don’t want to make yourself more vulnerable by telling others. There’s a fear that somehow this knowledge may be used against you and cause more pain and distress.

Natalie – I believe that people may not feel comfortable talking about mental health in their work environment due to fear of how they will be perceived from their colleagues. Some people also do not like to show their more vulnerable side with others outside of their close circle.

Olivia I struggle with talking about mental health in the workplace because I have fear of what people will think. Comes back to self worth and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be alone in this. I have struggled with anxiety and a form of OCD a large chunk of my life, I’ve suffered multiple panic attacks and can get overwhelmed quite easily. I’ve only really been honest about this for about a year. I am quite diligent and a bit of a perfectionist in terms of how I’m viewed in the workplace and I fear talking about my mental health struggles will ruin whatever image I think people have of me. But I am not my anxiety or my OCD. I’ve learnt that recently. And I think this stigma around hiding struggles should be a thing of the past!

Tara – In the past I would say that I have been hesitant to talk about mental health in the workplace in case this is perceived as a sign of weakness. It can be difficult to admit that you need help or support and there can be pressure to meet certain expectations and standards in the workplace. I think everyone’s struggles are individual and there may be a fear that others might not understand or be able to empathise with what you are going through in terms of mental health.

Thank you to all those people who generously shared their thoughts to help us continue to reduce mental health stigma both here and everywhere. Working together we can make a positive change to end mental health discrimination. 

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