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Sun, Jan. 26

Envisioning a mentally healthy workplace

If you ask people in the workplace who have a mental health problem "What's the worst part of having such an illness?" many will say "stigma." Feelings of shame, concerns about job security and fear of rejection by colleagues are often debilitating - and they often discourage many from seeking the help they need.

Here are some tips from Mental Health America for establishing the right environment:

• Educate: Employees and managers at all levels of the organization need to learn about mental illnesses, stress, wellness, available health and mental health benefits, and how to access those services. Some employers are making use of Internet and Intranet technology to provide mental health and benefit information to their employees. In fact, some link their sites to provider directories and wellness information, while others use toll-free information numbers.

• Watch your language: Stigma begins with hurtful labels, such as "crazy" or "nuts." Encourage staff at all levels to discontinue such language and to start using "people-first" language (e.g. "a person with schizophrenia" as opposed to the dehumanizing term "a schizophrenic").

• Encourage dialogue: Organizations that can talk candidly about mental health help set a positive tone. Create a safe environment in which staff members are encouraged to talk about stress, workloads, family commitments and other issues. Send the message that mental illnesses are real and treatable. Many people mistakenly believe that mental illness is permanent and untreatable. However, with access to appropriate treatment, the vast majority of people with mental illness achieve significant improvement and continue to lead productive lives.

• Put your money where your mouth is: Actions do speak louder than words, so it is essential to invest in mental health benefits, including prevention and educational programs. Innovative employers have learned that addressing employees' mental health needs makes good economic sense. They also recognize that they play an essential role in their employees' mental health not only by paying for a large portion of treatment but also by creating an environment in which people feel comfortable accessing care.

Make sure the treatment services your organization has paid for are indeed available. Health and mental health administrators often do not offer adequate networks of providers.

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