Do you know someone experiencing mental health issues?

We all know that the pandemic has caused suffering for billions of people around the world, isolating us from each other in our greatest time of need. In recognition of this, we thought it would be important to talk about mental health and how to better support people who are dealing with mental illness.

Reflect: Do you know someone experiencing mental health issues?

No person on Earth has gone without some struggle regarding their mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 51.9 million people (or 1 in 5 Americans) struggled with some form of mental illness in 2019. Furthermore, mental health issues are mediated by social determinants, particularly for those with marginalized identities who experience heightened amounts of mental health issues as a result of inequality (e.g.,Araújo & Borrell, 2006; Sami & Jeter, 2021; Singh, 2006). In higher education, for example, mental health issues appear early on. Graduate students who must adjust to demanding workloads and a competitive culture frequently report multiple symptoms of mental health issues (Forrester, 2021). In addition to difficulties with intense academic pressure, roughly 25% of women Ph.D. students experience gender-based harassment from advisors and peers (Woolston, 2019).

Learn: Mental health, Sexism, and the Workplace

The ADA National Network states that psychiatric disability is one of the most commonly covered disabilities for workers, with roughly 18% of workers reporting mental health conditions. Krupa and colleagues (2009) found common workplace beliefs about coworkers with mental illness include that they have been hired as a charity case, work worsens their condition, and they are incompetent. When people with mental health issues experience discrimination, it can lead to shorter periods of employment, lower rates of disclosure, increased stress, and are less likely to seek employment (Hampson et al., 2020; Thornicroft et al., 2009). Sexism intersects with mental health stigma to create gendered stereotypes about mental health issues (Boysen et al., 2014). For women who are dealing with mental health issues, they may feel pressure to conceal their experiences not only to avoid general stigma, but also to avoid confirming negative associations between women and mental stability.

Change: Supporting Hispanic/Latinx Voices

  • Recognize microaggressions: Gonzales and colleagues (2014) found five major themes in microaggressions targeting people with mental illness: invalidation, assumption of inferiority, fear of mental illness, shaming of mental illness, and second-class citizenship. Educate those who say things like “well, you’re just being crazy,” “stop being spastic,” and “have you taken your meds?” about why these phrases are alienating and negative. Provide space and resources for those who receive these microaggressions to process.
  • Policies: Because mental illness can fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is legally required that all spaces and services are accessible to people with severe mental illness. Do not question the accommodations given to coworkers or students, such as modifications to one’s schedule or work environment. Actively seek out ways to make other policies more accessible, such as how supervision is conducted or policies about missing work/class.
  • Break Down Toxic Culture: One of the biggest things that we can do to reduce stigma around mental illness is to be vulnerable. Take time with your colleagues and/or students to earnestly discuss mental health and invite them to do the same (without forcing them). Being open and empathetic to mental health will show those around you who may need support that they don’t need to be ashamed (Riding, 2020). Consider how different cultural backgrounds also orient us to be more or less open to talking about mental health when starting the conversation.