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Let go of outdated mental health perceptions and invest in workplace well-being

In this opinion piece, Tania Diggory — mental health trainer, business neurolinguistic programming practitioner, and founder and director of Calmer, a mental health and well-being training organization — explains what we still get wrong about mental health and how to improve well-being in the workplace.

Today is World Mental Health DayTrusted Source, and this year, it certainly comes at a unique time in our history — particularly considering the mental health stories and studies that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Federation of Mental Health has set this year’s theme as “Mental Health in an Unequal World” — a truly poignant and timely discussion to be had.

The stark reality is that we don’t have to look very far to notice inequalities and the mental health impacts that result from them. From the gender pay gap and racial discrimination to income inequalities within countries and tackling climate change, to name a few, the United Nations (UN) cites that 71% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has grown. There’s no doubt that many of the world’s inequality issues will, and do, have an impact on the mental health of those affected.

It is also commendable to see the UN’s Committee for Development policy, Leaving No One Behind, as the rallying call of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Although it may feel overwhelming to fathom how we as individuals can contribute to reducing unequal issues that are close to our hearts, the empowering reality is that when we each do our part, we truly can make a meaningful long-term difference.

While every issue that represents inequality deserves recognition, I’d like to explore a topic of inequality in relation to mental health that I believe doesn’t get enough air time: addressing the outdated perceptions of mental health, the negativity bias associated with it, and, as a result, unequal access to workplace well-being.

It’s time to shift our language

The words we say have meaning. The impact of our words can create a perception in another person’s mind that has the potential to form a belief and stay with them for a long time — even their entire lives. For centuries, people have largely perceived mental health as mental illness, and it’s still mostly discussed when someone is experiencing a decline in their well-being.
When we consider words that are often associated with mental health, while we’ve come a long way in raising awareness in recent years, there remain outdated perceptions of primarily viewing mental health from an illness perspective. Through my years of experience as a mental health educator, author, and owner of a mental health training organization, I’ve identified a key reason as to why this could be.
When you hear the term “mental health,” what comes to mind for you? There is no “right” or “wrong” — there are many valid answers. If you notice a natural lean toward thinking about mental health issues, struggles, and challenges, you’re not alone.
Particularly with new data highlighting the mental health crisis over the past 18 months — plus media stories surrounding this topic over many years significantly influencing our views, opinions, and understanding — it seems that many of us have been somewhat conditioned to focus on the aspects of poor mental health, which is what breeds the stigma associated with it. I’d like to offer a different perspective.

Let’s talk about positive mental health

When I start my workplace training courses on mental health and resilience, I often open with a question to discuss, such as, “What does mental health mean to you?”
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