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De-Stigmatizing Mental Illness with Relationships and Respect

21 Mar. 2018 Posted by aadams

Raquelle Solon, FEI Business Solutions Engineer


Just when I think the stigma of mental illness is starting to subside, it flares up again. As more bad things happen in the world each year, we become simultaneously a bit more aware yet stigmatized about mental illness. 

The topic of mental illness and workplace violence has already come up at two conferences this year, with one detailing how to help people who are struggling and the other focusing on how to keep them from becoming violent when pressures overwhelm. This isn’t surprising when you look at what plays out in public discourse every time a shooting or violent act occurs. The first assumption made is that the perpetrator must be mentally ill. 

But if our first assumption is that a violent individual is mentally ill, then what are we doing about it? How are we making our workplaces and schools safer?

One might assume that I’m going to debate whether to have guns or not have guns, to have police/security presence or not have police/security presence, but I’m not. I’d like us to look instead at a different angle on the issue: Relationships and respect.

When workplace relationships are healthy and built on mutual respect and trust, employees can thrive.  From C-Suite leadership to support staff, find out if people feel valued, respected and part of a team. Does your organization have a mission statement and set of core values that guide employee behavior, or is it disregarded and considered applicable only to a select group
of people?

Or consider schools. When students in your schools or day programs are treated with respect and we ask what happened to them instead of what’s wrong with them, we can start understanding that behavior is communication of an unmet need, often safety. Safety is much more than just physical safety – it’s psychological and emotional safety. Are we creating classrooms and treatment environments where kids can relax, or is bullying and exclusion tolerated?

When tragedies occur, we like to label the experience so it can be someone else’s problem. I’m going to challenge us to look beyond labeling and instead look at ourselves.

Ask yourself how well you model your organization’s mission statement and/or core values. Do you treat everyone you encounter with dignity, respect and kindness? Are you promoting a culture that is not just diverse, but that has inclusive equality?  

In post-event investigations, often perpetrators of violence are found to have felt excluded, disrespected, bullied and alone. This transcends age groups, from children in school to adults working in our organizations. One way to help remove the stigma that prevents people from seeking assistance when they are mentally stressed or ill is to stop blaming all bad events on mental health challenges and realize that each of us contributes to our fellow human’s
well-being.

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