How International Women’s Day Can Help You Break the Mental Health Bias

International Womens Day Break the Bias of

International Women’s Day on 8th March 2022 has inspired me to spread the message about how you can challenge the bias around the stigma surrounding mental health.

Mental Health is something that is spoken about more frequently than even a decade ago, whether that’s covered in TV Soaps, or conversations with friends, the world has definitely made progress. It’s easy to assume that because you’re hearing it spoken about, that all those close to you are honest and forthcoming with information about their own mental health, you may be wrong. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is still stigma and even some shame around admitting you’re struggling with your mental health.

Noticing changes to family and friends is one thing, but what about colleagues? 

Pre-Covid, we spent more time with people at work than we probably did with anybody else, but the shift to working from home has brought its own issues, in not only igniting some mental health problems, but also allowing those struggling to go unnoticed. The shame and stigma that still exists in society can stop people from talking, and also seeking the help they may need.

Work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of work-related ill health, and 54% of working days lost (HSE 2019)

International Women’s Day on 8th March 2022 has inspired me to spread the message about how you can challenge the bias around the stigma surrounding mental health, and this is something I am keen to bring to workplaces through my workshops. It’s time to challenge the stigma. Personally, I would like to see a world where everybody feels valued, where people can be themselves and differences are celebrated, and I’m sure you do too. When we begin to challenge the bias, we will see employees who can be themselves, employees who feel like they belong and are less likely to leave, and a workforce that work better and more productive. So, this is exactly why it is important to use International Women’s Day to challenge the bias around mental health in the workplace, and ensure that you are looking after your workforce. 

Always ask twice…

We all have mental health. That is a fact. And, like our physical fitness, our mental health needs looking after too. Whether we realise it or not, we all make assumptions on what we think mental ill health looks like.

🤒 Have you had employees who seem quiet and withdrawn, maybe you have somebody who rings in sick regularly?

😠 Who seems angrier and snappier than usual?

These are all signs that somebody is struggling and it’s important everybody knows exactly what to look out for. One of the easiest pieces of advice I give, is to always ask how somebody is twice, the first time, you probably get the generic ‘I’m fine’, the second time you may get more information.  In many of my workshops and coaching I share more information on how to really make this work well.

In a survey, 4 in 10 employees said they felt less resilient since the pandemic struck, and 51% said they felt pressure to put a brave face on at work (Lime Insurance)

People don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers…

The education starts with the people higher up in your company, arming managers with the correct tools can help them build trust and authenticity with their teams. I spoke to a manager recently who kept quiet about his own problems because ‘he felt weak’, and this is exactly what we need to educate our teams on. Mental health struggles are not a sign of weakness, yet that bias, stigma and judgement can come from themselves as well as from others around us.

One of the biggest things I say to managers in my workshops is to start conversations, tell stories, open up with your teams, if you are vocal about the fact that you are having a bad day, or maybe you’re just feeling deflated, vocalise that. You might not feel like you’re doing anything, but you are opening up a dialogue, and if other people feel the same way, they’re more likely to open up too.  International Women’s Day can provide the springboard we need to have uncomfortable conversations to help challenge the stigma. 

‘Another massive thank you – brilliant session. The team commented on how engaging you were, how they were able to take things away from the session and also they could identify with what was said’

Mental Health and Wellbeing is more than a ‘nice to have’…

I have seen this in the past, mental health and wellbeing plans being put in place as a tick box exercise. Again, to truly challenge the bias and stigma, these need to actually serve a purpose. First we need to understand what the issues are and what your people need.  Think about the benefits that a wellbeing plan will bring to the organisation.  It might be beneficial to the employer in reducing absences or attrition. It might benefit the employee with a boost of morale, helping them to be happier, healthier and feel more supported which changes the bias too.

81% of employees want employers to offer help and support with their mental health.

Women are not bossy or over-emotional

How many times have you been referred to as bossy or over-emotional? Perhaps you thought that somebody else was?  So many times in business, women are mislabeled or judged inappropriately when actually they are confident or assertive. What impact do you think that has on their confidence, self esteem and mental health?  A recent report showed that women were also more burnout than men because of the pandemic, with 1 in 3 thinking about leaving their current role (Mckinsey). As well as mental ill health, other issues also need to be spoken about this International Women’s Day, especially around women. This is definitely a bias that needs to be recognised. 

“Just wanted to say a massive thank you. I feel like I’ve had a weight lifted – the release already is incredible. Never forget you are an amazing lady, you do amazing things.”

Kelly H, HR Director

Helping You Break the Mental Health Bias

I’ve been providing events, workshops and talks for the last few years for International Women’s Day and beyond. Recently I’ve been providing a blend of motivational and practical speaker sessions that Stop the Stigma of Stress and Mental Wellbeing so that they create a change in the understanding, narrative and expectation in the workplace.

Emma’s International Women’s Day Event in York 2020

Sometimes the focus is for all employees or sometimes just for managers.  It’s important to ensure all focus includes your company’s most important messages and key takeaways so that everything you do really does hit the spot.

Examples could be:

  • Tips and examples of ways that people can have conversations that sometimes seem uncomfortable so that they no longer avoid these situations and break the stigma around mental health
  • Quick and easy ways to build trust so that they can get a greater sense of belonging and inclusion
  • How stories can break the bias so that you’re able to improve wellbeing in your teams and across the organisation

Sharon said:  Delivered in a compassionate and inspiring way, it is clear to see that Emma is incredibly passionate about what she does and her reasons for doing so. Emma builds a rapport and understanding with her audience and, unlike some talks, you leave with actionable and easy to implement advice.

Challenging the Bias this International Women’s Day

I hope this brief summary has given you some food for thought as to how you can challenge the bias this #InternationalWomensDay.  Get in touch to talk about how I can help you with any of these themes as well as boundaries, resilience and stress management, whether that’s through talks, toolkits, workshops or coaching – get in touch today. 

More specifically if you’re looking for a speaker for International Women’s Day, book a call to talk about how I can inspire your people with stories and advice that challenge the bias and shift them from ‘being bossy’ and ‘over emotional’ to Speak Like a Leader and be Confidently Assertive. 

Supporting your workforce and implementing the correct tools is beneficial to your company, productivity and reducing staff turnover and the costs involved. 

Emma Langton has 10 years experience in supporting mental wellbeing in organisations. She helps leaders with 1:1 coaching and organisations with training and workshops. Emma regularly provides insights on leadership and mental wellbeing on her Lessons for Leaders podcast and has been featured in Forbes, Metro, Yorkshire Business Review and The Press Business Section.

This article was previously published on Linked In

This post discusses: #IWD, coaching, emmalangton, International Womens Day, leaders, leadership, mental health, stress
Emma Langton

Emma Langton

Executive Leadership Coach

Emma hosts the Lessons for Leaders podcast. Each week she brings you lessons, learnings, tips and advice to enable you to lead with ease in business, without stress, doubt and overwhelm so that I help you to increase your performance, be resilient and thrive in life. Emma has been providing coaching, training and therapeutic support for executives since setting up her business in 2011. Prior to that she spent over 20 years with people at the top of national and multi-national training and communication businesses.


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