Diversity and inclusion: understanding the intersectionality of mental health in the workplace
Written by Student Marketing Intern, Koy Rogers
I was recently listening to an online discussion held by Uptree around diversity, inclusion and belonging. They raised the topic of the diversity in mental health, lifestyles and needs and it got me thinking- what are the real implications of the diversity and the intersectionality within mental health? And what can organisations do to help?
Mental health is a prevalent topic of discussion in society, especially in the world of work. Companies have reacted to the topic creating many initiatives and partnerships to support people’s mental health in the workplace. During a recent online discussion held by Uptree on diversity, inclusion, and belonging, one of the topics of discussion was the diversity in mental health. I found this topic very interesting because it made me realise that the diversity of mental health means that people will have different mental health needs and need different forms of support. Recognising the intersectionality within mental health across different factors such as age and ethnic background, can help companies cater to different people’s needs. Often, when looking at support for mental health there is more of a one-fits-all approach, but support would be more effective if the differences between communities were recognised so that support can be tailored to each one. So, what can be done to tailor mental health support to different communities; especially people from black heritage and the Gen-Z community?
Using myself as an example, I am a student from Gen-Z and I am also of black heritage. Statistics show that during this digital era, mental health struggles are significantly higher among Gen-Z; we use social media the most often and take in a lot of information through posts, which include both positive and negative messages. However, being exposed to negative messages can have a significant effect on Gen-Zers’ self-image and self-esteem, through comparisons to who or what they see online, which can contribute to the emergence of mental health problems. Furthermore, individuals from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities face an increased vulnerability to developing mental health issues during adulthood. They also encounter significant barriers when accessing appropriate support for their mental well-being. As well as this, people from BAME backgrounds who live in the UK have a tendency to stop using traditional mental health services. This statistic really emphasises the pressing need for targeted and culturally sensitive support systems to address the mental health concerns within these communities.
As someone from black heritage who is also friends with many people from the BAME community, this issue resonates deeply with me. When people of BAME heritage are struggling with their mental health and they share this with their family they are sadly often told that they need to change the way they think – “it’s all your mind”, or they can control themselves and their thoughts, or “It’s all of those shows you watch on TV”. Hearing these phrases makes it difficult for BAME people to open up to family about their mental health; potentially worsening their situation. A workplace may be the only place where they feel comfortable enough to open up about their mental health. Around 33% of our lives are spent at work so it’s essential that a work environment can facilitate the needs of all individuals and they can be in an environment in which they feel comfortable in. To create this environment, there needs to be mental health transparency and support. Uncomfortable conversations may need to be had to create comfortable environments where all of us can flourish.
With this information about Gen-Z and people of black heritage, here are some things that can be done to tailor the mental health support in the workplace:
- Anonymous mental health support messaging sites on the company websites. This means that anyone, including people of black heritage can access this service if they ever need help or have issues at work, and the anonymity helps them feel safe in sharing their issues. People of black heritage tend to struggle more with disclosing their mental health information so the anonymity of this platform would ensure that they feel more comfortable with doing so.
- Easy to use mental health digital platforms with varying media/company mental health app. People who are in Gen-Z use digital platforms the most so having a mental health digital platform would increase their likelihood of seeking support and it would also make support more available to them.
- Culturally sensitive people providing the mental health support so they can understand more of the unique challenges Gen-Zers or people of black heritage go through. For example, someone who is of black heritage providing the support to the employee of black heritage.
It’s important that employers continue to play an active role in promoting mental health support for everyone, particularly those of BAME heritage and Gen-Zers, who might not be able to receive this support at home. As I said before, often a one-fits-all approach for mental health is not suitable for everyone, so tailoring the support and advice available to different communities can make such a great difference to an employee’s wellbeing. Displaying clear information about mental health on company websites, social media platforms, newsletters and talking openly about mental health support available at work can encourage people to seek help when they need it.
By creating an environment that fosters transparency, inclusivity and understanding, we can create a culture where mental health is prioritised and people from every community are able feel comfortable to talk about their mental health. Addressing the cultural implications in mental health support requires a collective effort where barriers are broken down, diversity is celebrated, and mental health support is accessible, inclusive and sensitive to the needs of people from BAME heritage.