AN INTROUDCTION TO WORKPLACE MENTAL HEALTH AND STIGMA-REDUCING LANGUAGE FOR LEADERS
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” -John C. Maxwell
If you’re a manager or supervisor in the motion picture industry, we don’t have to tell you that your work is critical to the success of a production.
You’re responsible for:
making sure deadlines are met, problems are handled, and the cameras can roll
supporting and mentoring the crew members who report to you
On the surface, it seems easier than it is. We understand the level of responsibility you carry with you each and every day you report to work.
You wear multiple hats. By default, you are the taskmaster and the leader in one!
Your crew relies on you to set the stage - looking to you for direction, clarity around roles and responsibilities, how to behave, what to do and when to do it. All in the ever-shifting production environment!
You set the tone - you let them know when they’re doing well, or when they’re out of line. You lead by example in every way. Make no mistake, managers and supervisors play a key role in the lives of their crew, and for better or for worse, wear the successes and challenges of day to day life in our industry.
One of the most important things managers can have at their fingertips is the knowledge and information they need when a colleague begins to unravel.
The goal of Winning at Mental Health is to help you, the manager, know when and how to refer your crew and colleagues to counselling and mental health support when they need it. You don’t have time to search for information or phone numbers, or wonder what to do. Before discussing how to make referrals or provide you with resources, we will begin by exploring what mental health means and you can normalize mental health-related conversations.
When we think about mental health problems, we typically think of things like anxiety, depression, addiction or burnout. But what about being “stressed out”? Feeling like you’re “losing it”? Needing a drink or a toke because you “can’t handle it anymore”? There are many myths surrounding mental health problems which affect our way of thinking about them.
Consider the examples below. Have you come across any of the following myths and have they ever affected how you view mental health?
MENTAL HEALTH MYTHS
People are born with a mental illness.
A vulnerability to some mental illnesses, such as bipolar mood disorder, can run in families. But other people develop mental illness with no family history. Many factors contribute to the onset of a mental illness.
People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.
Most people with mental illness are not violent, and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.
People with mental health needs, even those who have received effective treatment and have recovered, tend to be second-rate workers on the job.
Studies by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) show that there are no differences in productivity when people with mental illnesses are compared to other employees.
Mental health problems in children are rare.
Roughly 50% of the Canadian population will have or had had a mental health condition by age 40.
Mental health problems are common
17% of children aged 2-5 meet diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition2, and 10.1% of teenagers reported symptoms that are consistent with mental health or substance use disorders.
t is valuable to be educated about mental health problems so that you don’t fall victim to any of the above myths and allow them to influence the way you approach certain situations.
WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?
In reality, mental health is a neutral term. It matters how we choose to label and define it because those labels can lead to stigma and assumptions. Many individuals use different mental health-related terms without knowing their exact meaning. Consider the graph below. You can see that mental health is an umbrella term which includes mental health problems and mental illnesses. Broadly defined, mental health is a state of well-being. It includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being and affects how we act, think and feel. If an individual is experiencing a mental health problem, they are experiencing difficulties coping with everyday life. A mental health problem can be a diagnosable mental illness, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, it may include feeling depressed enough for it to negatively impact our lives, but not enough that it meets the criteria to be diagnosed as clinical depression. When we talk about mental health problems, we often mention commonly used terms such as ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’. Instead of guessing what a crew member is experiencing, use the term mental health problem. It is important to note that mental illnesses can only be diagnosed by a mental health professional.
WHY IS MENTAL HEALTH AT THE WORKPLACE IMPORTANT?
A survey done by the BC Film Industry in 2015 showed that 61% of members reported that their mental workload is “heavy” or “very heavy.” Further, self-care is difficult. The majority of survey participants indicated that work interferes “very much” with leisure time, family/social life, and regular physical activity.
The duration of shifts and hours worked a week means that film workers have reduced opportunities for getting the required sleep their body needs. Sleep debt is linked with increased risk for health consequences, performance impairments and physical and cognition deterioration. For these reasons, it is especially important for supervisors and department heads to be educated about mental health, and be able to recognize and acknowledge when a crew member is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse issue.
As a supervisor or department head, you’re in a unique position to see the signs if one of your crew members has a mental health problem or substance abuse issue.
How can you address these cases?
Recognize observable changes in behaviour and performance
Initiate a conversation
Explore your crew member’s issue to the extent that helps you to determine the most suitable ways of support
Be aware of resources and referrals that you can offer to your crew member for support
(We will go into more detail on actionable steps you can take in our upcoming modules.)
In addition, the actions above, you are in a position to be a role model and reduce the stigma of mental illness on set. Creating a supportive workplace environment and smashing the stigma of mental illness would encourage your crew members to have an open conversation with you and reach out for professional support.
WHAT IS STIGMA?
Stigma is a negative stereotype and discrimination is the behaviour that results from this stereotype. For example, people with schizophrenia are often stereotyped as being violent. Because of this, they can be discriminated against and are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
Stigma can lead to people with mental illness feeling shame, guilt and isolation, which may prevent them from accessing services. For this reason, stigma may be a barrier to productivity and effective treatment.
Reducing stigma in the motion picture industry is valuable because it makes people with mental illness or those who have loved ones with mental illness feel safer, more comfortable, and more willing to share experiences. Therefore, it improves treatment as those with mental health problems will seek help sooner. Reducing stigma has also been shown to increase productivity, decrease absences and decrease disability costs due to workers feeling more comfortable and supported to get professional assistance.
What can you as a leader do to reduce stigma?
You can reduce stigma and create a supportive environment by normalizing conversation around mental health and using stigma-reducing language. Stigma-reducing language is respectful, neutral and non-judgmental, free of jargon, reflective of what messages you may be sending and reflective of how others might understand what you are saying, writing or thinking.
So, how can you use stigma-reducing language?
Try to use language that puts the person first. Say “person with schizophrenia”, instead of “schizophrenic.” This has been shown to reduce stigma and improve treatment. Person-first language doesn’t define a person based on the medical disorder they may have. Further, try to use neutral language as much as possible, instead of language with negative connotations.
Examples of person-first or neutral language:
Had a failed attempt at suicide
Attempted to end their life
Lost their mind
Is suffering from
Has a history of
This is crazy
This is strange/funny
The mental ill
People with mental illness
Another way you can reduce stigma is by educating yourself. Use resources online or in books to learn more about different mental illnesses. Ask questions to mental health professionals, doctors, or a person who has a lived experience with a mental illness. Understanding more about mental illness decreases misunderstandings and stigma.
Using stigma-reducing language is crucial to building a supportive workplace environment, whether you’re on set or in the production office. Choosing your words can prevent crew members with mental problems from feeling shame, guilt and isolation, and encourages them to access professional services.
If you would like to know more about mental health and stigma-reducing language, feel free to reach out to your EAP provider or to explore the resources section of this website.