"Challenging Mental Health Stigmas" with Rosa Ponce de Leon, Leadership Strategist

Challenging Mental Health Stigmas

What if mental health challenges were as visible as physical health challenges, would we treat people differently? It’s easy to see when someone has a broken limb. We offer them support, extra accommodations and give them plenty of time to heal. But when someone is suffering from anxiety or depression, we sometimes think it’s something they can overcome quickly.

“You cannot recover from anxiety just by staying calm. You cannot recover from depression by just being positive. You cannot recover from anorexia nervosa just by eating more. If mental illnesses were that simple we wouldn’t be struggling in the first place.” Source: Healthy Place 

Times have changed to the point where people are more open and understanding to mental health issues. In my line of work in law enforcement, I’ve seen a rise of mental health issues to do substance abuse. The silver lining is that it’s forced society to take another look and how we support mental illnesses.

For example, it’s more common and socially accepted for children to see a therapist. One of my client’s sons was recently sent to complete a special assessment to see if he had a learning disability. The great thing about this assessment was that they assessed her son in multiple different areas, from reading to writing, to physical capabilities, and even addressed family history. 

While giving him medication may have been a quick fix, my client was able to make other adjustments that had tremendous benefits. She made changes to his diet and applied an earlier bedtime so his body could get more rest. When someone is overcoming a mental health issue, there’s no easy solution. It should be holistic and you might be surprised to see sometimes it’s an easy adjustment like going to bed earlier or changing your diet. And sometimes it’s a combination of medication and finding other ways to be healthy.

When you have an employee dealing with mental health issues, remember that addressing these issues makes us stronger and a bigger asset to your team. It doesn’t make someone defective, it makes them normal. We should be able to admit our shortcomings because we still have a lot to offer. And when we know what our shortcomings are, we can address them and better ourselves.

Make it okay to talk about mental health.

You should already be talking to the people on your team so often that conversations about mental health shouldn’t come out of left field. Be open minded and vulnerable with your team so that you can make a difference in helping them become mentally healthy.

It’s important to be realistic in how we look at ourselves. For example, we might think we eat healthy but there are always ways we can clean up our diets. Someone may think their mental health is in order meanwhile they are experiencing some issues below the surface. Be willing to admit that there are things we consume that are not good for our mental health. Whether that’s something like Imposter Syndrome, office gossip, or issues at home. It’s important to know where we fall short so that we can work towards a healthier lifestyle.


We all want to believe we’re fine but we have experiences every day that impact our mental health. Trauma happens by everyday interactions and not all traumas are huge events. Daily trauma could be something small like feeling ashamed at something you said during a meeting, or getting so frustrated that you cried at work. Not all traumas are so easily identified.

Trauma creates a false sense of self that affects our self esteem, confidence and how we view ourselves. This all leads to anxiety. When not addressed, anxiety can cause these small traumas to become huge issues that really hurt our mental health.


Depression occurs when we isolate and can’t open up and share with others. We were made to live in a community with bonds and relationships. Even introverted people need community, friendships, and meaningful relationships.

People tend to think that no one else experiences depression and that they’re alone. This makes asking for help even harder. Feelings of depression affect us all and are more common than most of us realize.

Depression doesn’t just happen with a diagnosis. Some people experience depression for brief amounts of time and others feel suffocated by it. That’s why it’s so important to communicate and have the self awareness to know when you or someone you know is experiencing depression.

Process Addiction & Staying Busy

Anxiety and depression can sometimes be easier to identify than someone dealing with process addiction. Process addiction happens when you are so focused on your work that you tune out the outside world. It keeps you from connecting with others, depriving yourself of meaningful connections and noticing the small, everyday moments that make life worth living.

Process addiction feels good because you’re cranking out work and feeling productive, but when your process is interrupted, you fall into anxiety and depression. You don’t have patience for others because they don’t fit into your process. That causes you to lose your sense of community and that’s when depression can set in.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse happens because we don’t want to experience pain. Substances mask the pain, making it seem like an easy, quick solution. But feeling pain can actually be a good thing. It forces us to go deeper with our experiences and the deeper the pain, the more you have to uncover. When you can go through the pain, it leads to greater understanding.

For example, we’ve all likely experienced a broken heart. You can either choose to mask the pain by binge drinking or taking other substances, or you can sit in the pain and explore what you’ve learned from the situation. When you can reach that deeper understanding, you can avoid bringing that baggage into your next relationship.

Overcoming Mental Health Issues

You can help someone overcome mental health issues by allowing them to be vulnerable with you. If someone on your team doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with you, give them another resource like a peer they are close with or point them towards some other resources like an employee assistance program.

Helping people take small, consistent steps will lead them to overcoming mental health issues. Too many times we feel like we don’t have time for the real solution but not taking the time only extends and exacerbates the issue.

As the leader, help your people take a step back to reflect on why they are feeling a certain way. They have to take the first step in admitting that they need help and you can help guide them, but ultimately they have to be ready to make the change.


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