Stopping stigma at work

I woke up this morning feeling like everything that has happened has led me to here.

The fact is, I thrive in working environments where people are not stigmatised for speaking out publicly about social issues like better mental health.

I’ve had jobs in the last few years where I’ve done projects that aim to break stigmas and these are the best jobs I’ve had.

I’ve left jobs with mentally unhealthy workplace cultures.

That’s why my part time arts career is so satisfying and why it’s my intention now to make it a full time pursuit.

In the arts breaking stigma/taboo is our business.  I’ve experienced more than my fair share of stigma. Particularly about being outspoken about mental health.

We need to shatter some neo-liberal bullshit about mental health in workplaces.

You spend 8 hours a day at work, if it’s mentally unhealthy and hostile – it will be potentially having an affect on your mental health.

I was impressed recently by Our Watch ambassador, prevention of violence against women activist and mental health advocate Tarang Chawla sharing his story about a recent suicide attempt.

You can listen to him on SBS here:

I’ve posted about past struggles with episodic depression. But in recent years I’ve been following the advice that Tarang and many others advocate – I took steps to prevent it getting worse.

What I found refreshing about Tarang’s story is that mental health concerns have not stopped him working for violence prevention – they’ve made him a better advocate and representative for change.

A key mental health preventive for me is staying away from work environments that don’t take staff mental health seriously – or where they treat staff with mental health concerns as damaged goods.

Mental health is like any other health condition. If the aircon at work is giving people a chest infection – you fix the aircon.

I refuse to work in environments that don’t take mental health seriously.

If the working environment is hostile and workflows are breaking people’s mental health – fix the environment.

If workplaces don’t have wellbeing days or an employee assistance service offering counselling I’m not interested.

There are ways workplaces can take care of employee mental health:

  • encourage a culture of acceptance – no hush hush stigma
  • have an employee assistance program
  • while open acceptance of mental health is important don’t force or coerce people to disclose either
  • wellbeing days – break the stigma of “sickie days” “or sick of working days”
  • social, friendly, accepting workplace cultures
  • spaces for quiet or to eat in peace (in addition to a staff room/kitchen)
  • regular wellbeing breaks are actively encouraged (5 mins every hour)

People are not machines – if people think a big wage makes up for poor workplace culture – well that’s not for me either. I’m not materialistic and I’m anti-capitalist greed,  so waving as big pay cheque in front of me won’t work either – will not make me stay and “stick it out”.

Not everyone work for money or status. Mentally healthy workplaces recognise that.

Being in environments where profit is put before people is not the place for me.

We are not trees. If getting away from a work environment makes you feel better – you’ve done the right thing.

I think as a culture, Australians need to wake up when it comes to ridiculous ideas like “put up with it” or “stick it out”.

These ideas are killing us if you look at our suicide rates.

Stigma sucks and it kills.

No job, marriage or mortgage is worth compromising your mental health.

And there are millions of people out there with great working lives who have had mental health concerns before.

The big lesson for me – is if people talk about mental health as though people are broken – get the hell away from them.

We are not broken. Mental health is like any other health condition, you make sure your environment is conducive to staying well, do your best to work with appropriate medical advice and you can live a life like anyone else – it’s not a sentence to life that is less, it may open up possibilities you didn’t expect.  Sticking at something that makes you miserable is self-punishment, not self-care.

The idea that mental health concerns make you “less” is a well broken stereotype, inaccurate, ill-informed, potentially discriminatory and ableist.

#stigma #mentalhealth

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