How stigma can be the worst aspect of mental ill health

Global director, safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability, Royal Mail

When it comes to mental health, men can be a hard-to-help group. Many of us are raised to be “tough guys” never to show our emotions, as if that is a sign of weakness.

The macho, show-no-weakness images boys are surrounded by as they grow up do little to encourage them to open up about their mental health. According to the Mental Health Foundation, women are more likely to have been treated for mental health problems, but “this reflects women’s greater willingness to acknowledge that they are troubled and then get support”.

This is why, while many of the messages, recommendations and issues discussed in our book, Positive Male Mind, relate to both men and women in the workplace, our main focus is men. Our professional and personal experiences have highlighted that men struggling with their mental health find it difficult to ask for support.

The stigma around this subject can create fear that we will be judged or discriminated against because of our condition and discourage us from seeking support. Hiding our problems and hoping that they will go away really does seem like the easiest option.

This also poses a challenge for employers that are trying to support and communicate positively with men with mental health issues, which are the leading cause of sickness absence.

A poll conducted in 2015 by mental health campaign group Time to Change revealed that the stigma and discrimination faced by an individual with a mental health problem are often worse than the condition itself.

The stigma and discrimination faced by an individual with a mental health problem is often worse than the illness itself

In the study, 60% of people said the stigma and discrimination they had faced were as damaging or more damaging than the symptoms and 35% of respondents said stigma had made them give up their life ambitions and hopes. The same poll reported that 49% of workers felt uncomfortable talking to their employers about their mental health.

This stigma won’t go away overnight but, on the positive side, attitudes are changing.

Celebrities, influencers and the younger members of the British royal family are talking about and raising awareness of mental health issues, highlighting and emphasising the importance of speaking up, seeking help and that we all have the potential to be affected.

Employers are also taking initiatives to promote positive mental health and educating their employees. Apart from simply being the right thing to do, it makes business sense for an organisation to create a culture in which employees feel able to talk openly about any topic, but especially their mental and physical health, and to seek support without being judged or discriminated against.

There is clearly still a lot to do but, if you are experiencing mental health issues, remember that these can affect anyone and there are people and organisations that can and will help you. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Dr Shaun Davis is author with Andrew Kinder of Positive Male Mind: overcoming mental health problems.


Dr Shaun Davis is global director, safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability, Royal Mail

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