Mental health: breaking down taboos and stereotypes

18 September 2023 | Comment(s) |

Dr.Carole Nielsen

While mental health is increasingly covered in the media, the fact is that it remains a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.

Christine (her name has been changed), aged 45, found this out the hard way. While she was suffering from mild depression, which resulted in six months off work, she heard from her team that some of her colleagues apparently thought that she wasn't “really ill” and that she was taking advantage of her time off sick to have extra holidays. Dr Tarek Bdeir Ibanez, an FMH-licensed psychiatrist, provides an overview and possible solutions.

Dr Bdeir Ibanez, in your daily practice you come across people in situations similar to Christine's. What would you like to say to sceptical colleagues or untrusting managers?

Dr Bdeir Ibanez: Unlike a physical illness or an operation, psychological illnesses are not visible.

This is what can sometimes lead to mistrust on the part of colleagues or managers. What's more, the patients I see often feel ashamed and guilty. It's important to realise that mental illnesses are in fact illnesses and are not something people can do anything about.

What advice would you give Christine about communicating with her team and manager?

First of all, I’d say that the person concerned does not have to give details of their situation. They can remain vague, saying for example that they are going through a difficult period, but that they are doing everything they can to get better. Then, when the treatment is well underway and the person is feeling a little better, they can, if they wish, give more details about their illness to their colleagues. It's important to remember that the priority in such a situation is to focus on oneself and put guilt aside.

There's a lot of talk these days about raising awareness of mental health in society. How can businesses raise this issue with their employees?

Awareness-raising campaigns can be organised throughout the year, through a number of channels. This would help make everyone aware that mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time.

In fact, up to 60% of the population suffers or will suffer from a mental disorder at some point in their lives.

Managers have a key role to play

When it comes to health protection, managers have a key role to play.  As well as having to ensure that people suffering from mental health problems are well looked after, they are also responsible for the working environment. It is therefore their role to put a stop to any suspicions the team may have about the legitimate nature of the absence and to avoid leaving too much room for judgement.

Furthermore, to avoid situations that are uncomfortable for the persons concerned and their team, a healthy working climate, a relationship of trust and transparent communication should be established as soon as the manager takes up his or her position.

Would you like to find out more about training for your managers? Contact us for more information.

Dr.Carole Nielsen

About the author

Dr.Carole Nielsen

Spécialiste en Gestion de la santé au travail

See all posts from Dr.Carole Nielsen



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