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The silent struggle: Mental health stigma among young professionals

The silent struggle: Mental health stigma among young professionals
13-12-23 / Shelly Nxumalo

The silent struggle: Mental health stigma among young professionals

Johannesburg - According to The Mental State of the World in 2022 report, an alarming 35.8% of South Africa’s population is grappling with mental health issues, the highest percentage of any country surveyed. Dr. Marion Borcherds, Senior Manager and Head of Wellbeing at AfroCentric, a subsidiary company of Sanlam, says it's imperative to recognise that mental health is an integral part of overall well-being. Promoting an open dialogue is the first step in dismantling the stigma.

“For many young professionals navigating the demanding landscapes of their careers, the fear of judgement and potential repercussions often shrouds mental health struggles in silence. There is also a prevailing misconception that acknowledging mental health challenges equates to weakness or incompetence perpetuates the stigma.” In fact, findings from a UNICEF South Africa U-Report poll show that 65% of young people with mental health-related issues did not seek help.

Here, Dr Borcherds shares ways young professionals can break the mental health stigma:

1. Normalise having conversations about mental health.

Breaking the silence surrounding mental health starts with normalising conversations. Young professionals should be encouraged to discuss their mental health just as openly as they would their physical health.

Mental health challenges have risen post-Covid, especially among Gen Z. Within the workplace, wellness programmes are essential to encourage resilience and should be designed in a collaborative way that reflects employee needs. Employers can help by ensuring Gen Z participates by setting up “think tanks” in which they participate and provide strategic insights into programme design.

2. Educate yourself and others.

Take the time to educate yourself about different mental health conditions, treatments and coping mechanisms. This not only reduces the fear associated with mental health but enables you to be a resource for others. Share your knowledge with colleagues to contribute to a more informed and empathetic workplace culture and combat the mental health stigma.

3. Be mindful of your language.

Language plays a powerful role in shaping perceptions. Young professionals can contribute to destigmatising mental health by being mindful of the words they use. Avoid derogatory terms or casual language that play down mental health issues. By choosing your words carefully, you help create an environment where people feel respected and understood.

4. Seek support!

If you're experiencing mental health challenges, don't hesitate to seek support. Whether it's through Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), counselling services or talking to a trusted colleague, reaching out is a sign of strength.

Recognising the need to broaden the scope of retirement funds from purely financial stability to also address mental well-being, Sanlam Umbrella Fund recently provided access to free psychology sessions for members. Nzwananai Shoniwa, Managing Executive at Sanlam Corporate says this holistic approach supports employees who struggle with stress, depression and anxiety while tackling rising absenteeism due to mental health challenges.

5. When you’re comfortable, share your testimonial.

If you feel comfortable, consider sharing your own experiences with mental health. By opening up about your journey, you not only contribute to a culture of vulnerability and authenticity but also provide others with the assurance that they are not alone.

“Addressing the silent struggle of mental health stigma among young professionals requires collective effort and a commitment to developing an inclusive and supportive workplace culture. By implementing these tips, young professionals can contribute to breaking down the barriers,” concludes Dr Borcherds.

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