By Craig Booker
July 11, 2023

Ways to reduce mental health stigma

For humankind, the pandemic was a wake-up call to the harsh reality of mental health struggles faced by so many. It was perhaps the perfect...

For humankind, the pandemic was a wake-up call to the harsh reality of mental health struggles faced by so many. It was perhaps the perfect combination of uncertainty with rising prices, supply shortages, job insecurity, and the threat of illness or death around every corner. If this wasn’t enough, the safety precautions to protect our families and friends drove many to new levels of loneliness and depression. Political division, civil unrest, and the list goes on and on.

Mental health gets personal

While this time in human history is one the world would all like to put behind us, it propelled the case for mental health forward in a positive way. Mental health went mainstream, with terms like well-being and self-care entering the daily conversations of people all across the globe. With all of the tension, skyrocketing rates of clinical anxiety, and depression, glimpses of compassion could still be seen in everyday interactions. The interruption to life as we know it made mental health personal in a way this world has rarely seen. 

What positive advancements came out of the pandemic?

Several years later, reflecting on the pandemic and thinking about the positive outcomes of such a challenging time is difficult. As we look back on the pandemic and other hard times, we discover the numerous innovations created to solve challenging problems. As we narrow our focus to mental health innovations, the progress we see is remarkable.

  • A reduction in the stigma toward mental health
  • A healthier focus on workplace and work-life balance
  • A new social acceptance of well-being and self-care
  • Increase care options through apps, telemedicine, and teletherapy

Reducing the stigma

While each of these advances is important in its own right, one, in particular, stands out. Decreasing the stigma associated with mental health has the most significant potential to impact our world for the better. Ironically, it is also one of the more challenging problems we face. The pandemic brought mental health to the forefront and created forward momentum that’s extremely rare. 

Reducing mental health stigma sounds good, but how can employers and those living or working in Edmond help? 

The good news is that there are practical ways everyone can help. Before diving in, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, realize that reducing the stigma is a process that will take time, but each of us can do our part to help. Second, different strategies will positively impact different dimensions of the stigma. (Ahmedani, 2011) 

How can employers help?

According to the Harvard Business Review, there are five ways employers can help reduce mental health stigma. These include paying attention to language, rethinking time off or “sick days,” encouraging open and honest conversations, and being proactive. (O’Brien, 2023b)

  • Watch your language
  • Rethink “sick days”
  • Encourage open and honest conversations
  • Be proactive
  • Train people to notice and respond

Watch your language

The phrase sounds funny and may make you laugh, but language matters regarding mental health. In Western culture, using mental health terms to describe behaviors has become commonplace. Using phrases such as: “He is so OCD, it is driving me nuts!” “She is so bipolar; I never know what to expect!” These seem innocent enough, but they create an environment where people with legitimate conditions feel uncomfortable. 

Rethink “sick days.” 

When people think of “sick days,” many think of getting the flu or a bad cold. Employers prioritize their team’s health by providing time away from work to heal and recover. Few people would suggest that someone with the flu or COVID should learn to deal with it or push through it. Most people would not think twice about people taking time off to get better. Employers must broaden their definition of “sick days” to include physical and mental health.

Encourage open and honest conversations

Employers need to create an environment where employees feel safe sharing challenges they are currently facing or have faced in the past. In a study commissioned by Mental Health America in 2022 that included over 11,000 participants, “although 59% indicated their supervisor cares for their well-being, only 35% said they would feel comfortable requesting a mental-health accommodation from a manager or human resources.” Employers must work to create an environment where employees feel they can open up without fear of being labeled or passed up for big projects or promotions. Creating this culture won’t happen overnight, but the payoff will be worthwhile. (Druley, 2022)

Be proactive

Stress is something we all experience in our lives, but learning how to develop healthy coping strategies is vital to our well-being. Employers must work to ensure their team finds the right balance to prevent negatively impacting employees’ mental health. In a survey by the Harvard Business Review, “nearly 70 percent of respondents said that their employers were not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout.” Bosses must help their team by sharing resources before more serious issues arise. (O’Brien, 2023b)

Train people to notice and respond

In businesses all across the globe, it is commonplace to find a first aid kit with necessities like aspirin and bandages. Depending on the line of work, it is not uncommon for employers to train staff in basic first aid and CPR. Likewise, employers should train team members in Mental Health First Aid to help staff identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. A little training can go a long way in being prepared to handle a variety of mental health or substance abuse scenarios.

Ways we all can help

While it might seem redundant, many of the suggestions for employers benefit everyone. Being mindful of the language we use is something anyone can improve upon. A good practice, whether you are an employer or not, is to encourage open and honest conversations by being approachable. We can all do more to be proactive in self-care for ourselves and encourage others to do the same. Take time to learn about mental health or get certified in mental health first aid.

Here are five ways everyone can help:

  1. Watch your language
  2. Be approachable
  3. Be proactive 
  4. Be vulnerable
  5. Be empathetic

“Us” versus “them” mentality

Understand that a stigma originates mainly from an “us” versus “them” mentality. One of the positive things to come out of the pandemic was a new perspective and a sense of empathy for our neighbor. The rise in anxiety and depression took mental health from a problem for others to one for humanity. People began to see these challenges themselves and in those close to them, and a shift occurred. (Ahmedani, 2011)

We must keep the momentum going. It won’t be easy, but we can create a healthier workplace together!


Ahmedani, B. K. (2011). Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession. Journal of social work values and ethics, 8(2), 4-1. 

Druley, K. (2022, October 14). Help reduce the stigma around workers’ mental health. Safety+Health Magazine. Retrieved June 7, 2023, from 

Mental Health First Aid USA – Mental Health First Aid. (2023, June 1). Mental Health First Aid. 

O’Brien, D. (2023, January 26). 5 Ways Bosses Can Reduce the Stigma of Mental Health at Work. Harvard Business Review. 

Spector, N. (2018, May 25). How to talk about mental health issues at work.

Subscribe to Email Updates


Get Edmond Business news in your inbox.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

About Craig Booker

Craig Booker is the founder of Overflow, a community for anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. He is a freelance writer and mental health advocate. Craig is an Edmond native with a bachelor's degree in Business Management from the University of Central Oklahoma. He is passionate about creating a safe space where people can be authentic, knowing they will find love, acceptance, and encouragement. Craig hosts a weekly podcast called, The Overflow Podcast," where he talks about mental health and personal growth. In each episode, Craig shares practical ways to positively impact mental health.