Mental health stigma: guide for employers

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Health Assured team

05 March 2019

Stigma and mental health are, unfortunately, a common problem in day-to-day life.

While one in six employees experience some sort of psychological problem at work every year, there are still misconceptions about psychological wellbeing.

People living with these issues admit that stigma and discrimination can make it difficult to recover. In some cases, it can even worsen their condition.

The result is stigma remains one of the greatest barriers to mental wellbeing. So it’s important and beneficial for employers to address and eliminate this stigma around the workplace.

Employers also benefit from fostering an attitude of support for employees struggling with mental health issues. And in doing so there’s typically a decline in staff turnover and an increase in productivity and employee engagement.


What is stigma and what is mental health stigma?

The Oxford dictionary describes it as, “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.”

But in a working environment, stigmatising (or discriminating) is viewing an employee in a negative light based on characteristics or traits deemed by society to be a disadvantage.

It causes unfair treatment or exclusion and isolation from society as a whole or within groups.

As a society, we’re starting to understand mental health and how to support people experiencing ill mental health at home or at work.

Unfortunately, there’s still some negative stigma and stereotypes that people experiencing mental health issues deal with. details some mental health facts and statistics that show not only is it common, but it also comes in various forms and can affect anybody.

The media also contributes to this negativity. It sometimes portrays people with mental health issues as either homicidal, violent, childlike, criminals or evil. This leads some people to believe they should either fear, marvel at or avoid people with dealing with mental health issues.


What is social stigma in mental health?

Also called public stigma—it’s the negative stereotype associated with mental health problems.

This can mark employees experiencing issues with their mental state as “different” or even prevent them from feeling like individuals.

An example of social stigmas associated with discrimination includes leaving staff members out of activities or events because of a disability.

A survey by the British Journal Psychiatry showed that up to nine in 10 mental health service users in England had experienced some form of discrimination. The consequences of discrimination (unemployment, social isolation, etc.) future stigmatises the sufferer which in turn could worsen their condition.


What is self-stigma in mental health?

Arises when an individual dealing with psychological issues internalises the negative stereotypes associated with them. This can lead to cases of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, shame and hopelessness.

Both types of stigma contribute to employees not wanting to talk about mental health issues they may be experiencing.

This is because they might feel embarrassed or fear isolation or shunning from their colleagues.


The cost of staying silent

The stigma around psychological wellbeing can be detrimental to business activities when left unaddressed.

In 2017, staff turnover, sickness and lost productivity as a result of ill mental health cost employers over £42 billion. This figure reinforces the argument for looking after employee health, not just for their wellbeing but also for your financial benefit.


How can we prevent mental health stigma?

Some easily implementable ways to reducing mental health stigma around the workplace include:

  • Talking openly about mental health.

When you talk openly about wellbeing, employees are more confident to join the conversation. Openly talking about mental health helps to take away some of the negative perceptions about it.

The more we talk about it, the easier it is to talk about and the more people will reach out for support.

  • Educating others about it.

Training managers to identify and respond to symptoms of mental ill health can go a long way to supporting employees at work. It can also reduce the stigma surrounding the issue.

Consider introducing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) that offer counselling for various issues around employee home and work life.

  • Be conscious of language.

The type of language used when addressing issues surrounding mental soundness can have a great effect on those it affects. We should all be aware of the words that we use and how it contributes to stigmatising the issue.

  • Rethink the definition of sick days.

Businesses recognise other physical illnesses as genuine reasons to call off sick from work. But not when you’re experiencing mental ill health?

While businesses are now recognising mental illness as a legitimate issue, not all organisations are on-board. We need to get more comfortable with the idea of suggesting and requesting days to focus on improving mental as well as physical health.

Other ways to reduce the stigma includes encouraging equality, showing compassion and encouraging inclusion.


If you’d like to find out more information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact Health Assured on: 0844 892 2493

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