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Three Ways to Help Break the Stigma of Mental Health

January 17, 2018

I had the pleasure of participating on a panel for the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Public Policy Forum on Mental Health. This event was also a celebration of the Business Record’s recent special publication, “Lifting the Veil.” Both show significant progress in our community to recognize mental health as an issue that is vitally important and in need of immediate and consistent attention.  

As Polk County Chairperson Angela Connolly so eloquently stated, “We need to start treating mental health the same as any other area of health. We do a lot for our physical health and call it a quality of life issue. The fact is if you don’t have your mental health, it affects your life every day.”

Advocating for Mental Health Treatment

Mental health effects my everyday life. My 10-year-old son is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD and an anxiety disorder. This means, like it or not, mental health is a part of my personal and professional life and without treatment my entire family would be in a state of constant chaos. We are lucky to have an amazing team for my son, but we acknowledge that is not the case for everyone and the road to help is extremely difficult. This is why I continue to speak up and advocate for all Iowans suffering from a mental illness. You can too!  

Three Ways to Break the Stigma in Your Community

Listen with Empathy.

If someone confides in you about a mental health issue, stop what you are doing (yes, I mean put your cell phone down) and listen with an empathetic ear. This is especially true in the workplace.  Too often we might seem too busy or occupied to be able to help someone who is suffering, but just taking a few moments out of your day to listen without questioning or judgment goes a long way. Don’t necessarily try to solve the problem, just listen.

Act with Understanding.  

Do not say phrases like, “This will pass” or “If you just did X, Y or Z, I know you will feel better.” Be calm. Speak slowly and ask simple, yet direct questions that demonstrate an understanding.  For example, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need in this moment?” If they say nothing, that might be true. However, if you hear anything with a clear warning sign of infliction of self-harm or harm to others, you must take action. This should be done after listening and you do not need to involve the person you are speaking with as this can cause more harm.

Be an Advocate. 

Mental Health is a workplace issue. Tell the people you work with, including supervisors and senior leaders, that you care about the mental health of your co-workers and they should too. According to fellow panel member Peggy Huppert, Executive Director of NAMI Iowa, “Depression is the number one reason people miss work.” Think about how much more productive your workplace would be if the CEO and other key leaders clearly communicated support for the mental health of all employees!

So, what is next? Here is my challenge. Next time you hear a friend, family member or co-worker say something that could potentially continue the negative stigma around mental health, speak up! The fact is, we ALL have someone in our lives that has suffered from a mental health issue. Join me in doing the right thing for Iowans and be an advocate for adequate access to quality mental health care for all without obstacles, stigma or judgment.  

The Partnership's Public Policy team engages with local, state and federal officials to create public policy that generates economic growth, business prosperity and talent development in Greater Des Moines. The Partnership is a nonpartisan organization. To learn more, click here.  

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