Untangling mental health: Why we dodge important talks

May symbolizes Mental Health Awareness Month, a time when society focuses on the profound importance of mental well-being. However, conversations about mental health should extend far  beyond just thirty-one days. Every day, in every workplace, there’s a pressing need to cultivate an environment where employees feel empowered to share their mental health challenges.  Unfortunately, the pervasive fear of stigma and misunderstanding often holds individuals back from seeking the support they truly need.

Why do we shy away from these crucial conversations?

Stigma and misconceptions: Society’s ingrained stigma surrounding mental health fosters attitudes that undermine the validity of mental illness. These misconceptions create a fear of ridicule or discrimination, compelling individuals to endure their struggles alone instead of seeking necessary assistance.

Fear of rejection: Opening up about mental health challenges frequently triggers a fear of rejection or isolation, driven by the belief that such admissions signify weakness or abnormality. This fear can immobilize individuals, leading them to hide their struggles to avoid feeling socially isolated.

Cultural and societal norms: Cultural and societal norms significantly shape our perceptions of mental health. In many cultures, mental illness remains taboo, seen as a topic best left  unaddressed. These deeply rooted beliefs erect barriers to open dialogue, making it difficult to destigmatize mental health.

Lack of education: A fundamental lack of understanding and education about mental health perpetuates the cycle of silence. Without adequate knowledge about mental illnesses and how to  support those affected, individuals may respond dismissively or harmfully, further deepening the stigma.

How can we begin to unravel this intricate web of silence and stigma?

Promote education and awareness: Education is key to dispelling myths and challenging misconceptions about mental health. By providing accurate information and fostering awareness, we empower individuals to engage in informed discussions and combat stigma.

Normalize conversations: Creating a culture where discussions about mental health are not only accepted but encouraged is crucial. Normalizing conversations in workplaces, schools, and  communities breaks down barriers and creates safe spaces where individuals feel comfortable seeking support.

Provide supportive resources: Employers play a significant role in supporting employee mental health by offering resources like counseling services and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).  These initiatives demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being and send a powerful message that seeking help is not only acceptable but encouraged.

Lead by example: Leaders have a unique opportunity to lead by example by sharing their own experiences with mental health and showing vulnerability. By fostering a culture of openness and  support, leaders inspire others to do the same.

Community involvement: Engaging with mental health organizations and participating in community initiatives helps raise awareness and destigmatize mental illness. Supporting local  initiatives that provide affordable mental health services tangibly improves the lives of those in need.

At my credit union, we’ve championed mental health awareness through initiatives like sponsoring a Star Wars-themed 5K race, with proceeds benefiting mental health services. These endeavors not only raise funds but also cultivate open conversations about mental health within our organization and the broader community.

Advocate for change: Systemic change is essential to address the underlying factors contributing to mental health disparities. Advocating for increased funding, policy changes, and the elimination of discriminatory practices can create a more equitable and supportive environment for all.

The stigma surrounding mental health remains deeply entrenched in society, perpetuating dismissive attitudes and exacerbating the challenges individuals face in seeking help. As employers, it’s our responsibility to cultivate a culture of acceptance and support.

My personal journey with mental health awareness began with a tragic event in my early twenties—the suicide of a friend. Witnessing the devastating impact of untreated mental illness firsthand  underscored the necessity of open dialogue and compassionate support. Unfortunately, many families have had to face similar tragedies. It’s easy to hide behind a perfect life, but it’s not helpful. Our employees need to see that perfection doesn’t exist and that we’ve all faced or are facing really hard situations. Sharing our experiences makes space for someone else to open up.

As leaders, it’s crucial to acknowledge our own limitations and experiences while striving to create a supportive environment for our employees. Together, let’s continue advocating for mental health  awareness and ensure that no one suffers in silence. After all, we’re all individuals striving to make the world a better place.

Christie Smith

Christie Smith

Christie Smith President/CEO, Acclaim Federal Credit Union Christie Smith, CCUE, brings over two decades of credit union experience to her role as President/CEO. She's a passionate advocate for ... Web: acclaimfcu.org Details