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Erasing the Stigma to Support Mental Health

By Michael C. Bodson, DTCC President & CEO | 3 minute read | October 12, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped many views about the workplace—how and where we work, the tools we need and the importance of things that we may have taken for granted. For more than 18 months, professional and personal lives often have intertwined in unprecedented ways, creating challenges for colleagues around the globe that has shined a spotlight on the importance of self-care, and the need to promote mental health in the workplace.

It’s fitting on World Mental Health Day to consider a subtle, but important, shift in addressing this issue: Reinforcing the need to work past the stigma—real or perceived—when acknowledging anxiety, depression or addiction, and saying, “I need help.”

I believe that recognition—and the actions of firms, including DTCC, to provide that help—has promoted open conversations and dialogues in a safe environment. I’m also hopeful that by working together, we have saved lives.

Clearly, prior to the pandemic, Human Resource professionals, employee assistance programs and employee resource groups (ERGs) supported employees. But as the pandemic grew from weeks to months to nearly two years, mental health awareness and assistance has taken on new prominence.

The effectiveness of any program, however, depends on the willingness of our colleagues to use them. For many, the stigma or fear of being perceived as somehow “less than” or “different than” co-workers made them less likely to seek help. I was intrigued by a July article from McKinsey’s Center for Societal Benefit through Healthcare, Overcoming stigma: Three strategies toward better mental health in the workplace, which found that 65 percent of survey respondents with mental illness and 85 percent of respondents with substance-use disorders perceived stigma in the workplace. About 80 percent of those surveyed felt anti-stigma or awareness campaigns are useful, but “only 23 percent of employers reported having implemented such a program.”

Implementing anti-stigma programs in the post-pandemic world is one solution, but as former US Surgeon General Jerome Adams, has said “the single most important thing we can do to promote mental health” is to discuss it openly and encourage people with mental health symptoms to receive care. I was very encouraged to see last month’s announcement that the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is launching an Office of Recovery to work with organizations in mental health and addition recovery.

All of this work is leading in the right direction, and there are many steps that firms can take to start the conversation to overcome stigma. A few weeks ago, I was pleased to introduce DTCC’s first formal discussion about suicide prevention, which was suggested by one of our employees. We welcomed representatives from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and talked about how suicide touches people from all walks of life and backgrounds. When the program ended, several employees stayed to continue the dialogue.

Like many firms, we have seen a significant increase during the last two years, in the percentage of colleagues and their family members relying on our EAP and mental health services to address anxiety, stress and depression. In response, we’ve sponsored mindfulness programs, hosted wellness events with guest speakers, and have a group of “mental health first aiders”—created before the pandemic—based in the UK to assist colleagues.

All of these steps are part of a longer journey. Much of this work may have been accelerated by the pandemic, but the important point is that we are acknowledging the need and having open and honest conversations about mental health. That’s the best way, maybe the only way, to eliminate stigma once and for all.