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Mental Health Mythbusting

June 27, 2023

There is a growing awareness and understanding about mental health, how it can impact people in the workplace, and what we can do to support ourselves and each other.

But myths and misunderstandings about mental health and mental illnesses can create barriers for those dealing with poor mental health, discouraging them from speaking up or accessing support.

Tackling these myths, breaking down the stigma around mental health, and encouraging more open conversations are all going to help create more supportive and productive work environments.

Myth: People with a mental illness, or who struggle with their mental health, can’t manage the stress of holding down a job.

Fact: All of us have good and bad days. While some people who have a severe mental health condition may not be able to take on regular work, the majority of people with mental health issues are just as capable and productive as anyone else.

Myth: Poor mental health is caused by weaknesses or personality flaws. It’s just an excuse and it is possible to “snap out of it” if people really tried.

Fact: We can all experience good or bad mental health in our lives. Mental health issues have nothing to do with being weak or lazy. There are lots of factors that are involved including our biology, our life experiences and what support networks we have available. Anyone can be impacted, regardless of their race, gender, education level or income.

While we can usually utilise personal coping tools if we are having a stressful day, treating a mental illness will usually require some external support, possibly in the form of therapy or medication.

Myth: If you don’t have a mental illness, you don’t need to worry about looking after your mental health.

Fact: Everyone needs to look after their mental health and develop healthy habits. By doing so we not only protect ourselves against the impact of future events, but we can also act as role models, encouraging others to look after themselves and helping to end the mental health stigma.

Myth: Mental illnesses are permanent.

Fact: Everyone will have their own mental health experience, and their own perception of “recovery”. Some will find a treatment plan that helps them to restore balance (either the same as before symptoms began, or a new version). Some will have episodes of their versions of “good” and “bad”, while some may feel that they never fully recover. What is important is understanding an individual’s view of their own experience rather than applying our own labels or assumptions.

Myth: Organisations can’t prevent poor mental health. It is completely down to the individual.

Fact: Individuals have the responsibility to speak up about their mental health, and to take action if something is wrong, but organisations can do many things to look after their employees’ mental health. These include creating the right environment, facilitating temporary adjustments, providing tools and training that support good wellbeing, and regular check-ins. Employees have a duty of care to do all they reasonably can to support good wellbeing, and it’s in their best interests as it reduces absence and staff turnover, and increases productivity and creativity.

Myth: When someone is signed off work for mental health reasons, we need to leave them alone to deal with the issue.

Fact: If an employee has been signed off for any reason, the change in routine and reduced interaction with colleagues can lead to feelings of isolation. If someone had been signed off for a broken leg, we would check in and ask how they were. We shouldn’t treat a mental illness any differently and should make sure the individual stays connected.

Myth: You can tell someone does or doesn’t have a mental health illness by looking at them.

Fact: While there are certain signs and symptoms that people who are struggling with poor mental health might exhibit, some might not have visible signs or might be good at hiding them. Just because someone appears upbeat, there may be other things going on. So, if they choose to open up, we need to listen.

Myth: I don’t have access to anything at work that supports my mental health.

Fact: While you might feel like your organisation may not provide some of the more popular (and often more expensive) wellbeing initiatives, there are still plenty of resources within your workplace that you can utilise to support your wellbeing. There are legal requirements around breaks in the working day and annual leave, so make sure you are taking these as an opportunity for a break. You can also introduce your own initiatives with colleagues — a steps or water drinking challenge are both great ways to do things to look after our wellbeing, and the element of friendly competition can be a great way of boosting interaction.

Myth: All stress is bad for my mental health, so I need to try and avoid it.

Fact: “Stress” in the way it is traditionally viewed can be harmful for our mental health, and lead to burnout. However, some stress can be helpful as it gives us the drive we need to remain focused (think about the feeling you get when a deadline is due). This is called Eustress and ensuring that we experience it during the working day is important to keep us motivated and energised.

Myth: Women are better listeners than men.

Fact: Generally, and without reverting to stereotypes, men and women have different styles of communication. Men tend to focus on facts while women are more in tune with emotions. This doesn’t mean that women are better listeners, or men are bad listeners: it just means that their listening and questioning will differ.

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