How building empathy can decrease mental health stigma

15 May 2018

Stigma is one of the biggest barriers to people seeking help for mental health issues. Beyondblue reports many people find the stigma and discrimination worse than the mental health condition itself[1]. It can be difficult to know how to begin tackling this major issue, however the solution begins with small actions. One effective way is to ensure a culture of empathy and compassion is fostered within your organisation.

 

How to build workplace empathy

Empathy requires you to focus less on understanding a person’s specific challenges or experiences, and instead take on a role of support and compassion.

Education is the key to empathy, and undertaking SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training will help you and your colleagues understand mental illness signs and the appropriate actions to take.

While mental illness can be triggered by a number of risk factors (including major life changes or physical illness), there is not always a tangible reason for someone to experience a mental health condition.

It can be helpful to think of mental illness in a similar way to physical illness. For example, some diseases such as diabetes can occur for hereditary reasons or no reason at all, and this can also be the case for mental illness.

Speak in neutral terms, with open-ended questions wherever possible when having mental health discussions. For example, saying “you’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?” to someone you have suicide concerns about will only encourage them to say no. Instead you could say, “my friend was feeling that way and was considering suicide, are you thinking of that?” There is no doubt these are challenging issues to face, and difficult conversations can emerge from this.

However, each individual needs understanding and compassion, and less stigma will help improve the lives of those with mental illness. But it all begins with empathy.

 

[1] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/policy-submissions/stigma-and-discrimination-associated-with-depression-and-anxiety.pdf?sfvrsn=0