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Breaking down the stigma surrounding discussions about mental health challenges is crucial, especially in workplaces where employees might be hesitant to share their struggles, fearing judgment regarding their professional capabilities, a mental health expert said.

In this B-Side episode, Gia Sison, national adviser of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, discusses with BusinessWorld reporter Jomel R. Paguian the potential benefits of addressing mental health in the workplace for both employers and employees.

Employees often choose not to disclose their mental health conditions due to the fear of stigma, leading to workers “suffering in silence” to secure their jobs, according to Ms. Sison.

“When you disclose that you are suffering from bipolar or depression, your supervisor might think that you are not fit to work… and so your job suffers.”

Acknowledging the prevailing stigma, she highlighted the necessity of mental health awareness within the workplace. Employers need a reminder that individuals experiencing mental health conditions can still contribute productively in the workplace.

Ms. Sison pointed out that the stress induced by inadequate employment compensation in the country exacerbates the daily challenges faced by employees, citing that receiving a salary not enough to cover one’s needs triggers a series of anxieties.

“When you receive it (your salary) it’s enough to just pay the bill and nothing extra. So it dominoes into how you start to overthink, how you get anxious on getting your day by, how you get anxious having saving enough for you and your family,” she explained.

Ms. Sison said the stress associated with having insufficient salary contributed to the massive resignation trend in the country, where some even opt to migrate abroad to look for better working conditions to protect their well-being.

She pointed out that to address concerns related to inadequate wages that may lead to anxiety, normalizing discussions on both salary pay and mental health is crucial in the workplace. 

“Mental health will always be part of the conversation; let’s not be scared to talk about it. We have to normalize conversations pertaining to mental health just like we normalize conversations about salary pay,” she said.

In her message to employees facing mental health challenges, Ms. Sison underscored the significance of cultivating a support group both within and outside the workplace. She said a support group does not have to be huge, as long as you feel comfortable sharing your concerns with them. 

She said employees should not wait for red flags, such as isolating themselves to a point that it obstructs their quality of life, before opening up to their peers. “Let’s not wait for the red flag to happen, in fact before it happens you speak to a close friend or a counselor if available.”

To encourage employees to communicate their mental health needs, workplaces should be “psychologically safe,” she said. “It has to start with everyone, from the management to the employee, and having a mental health workplace policy in place.”

Ms. Sison also suggested employers organize engagement activities to foster an environment where workers will feel that they are recognized and that their hard work is validated.