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5 Solutions to Reduce Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace: Tips for Employers

2022-07-12
5 Solutions to Reduce Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace: Tips for Employers

Even though in recent years there has been a shift in attitudes concerning mental illness, mental health stigma at work is still a pressing issue. The good news is that there are steps that employers can take to help reduce this stigma. In this article, we will list five concrete solutions to start overcoming mental health stigma at work.

What Is Mental Health in the Workplace?

Mental health in the workplace is more than just a psychological issue. It's also important to think about emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing within a working environment. A mentally healthy workplace is one where workers feel supported by their company as well as able to manage stress effectively.

What Is Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace?

Mental health stigma is the negative attitude that people have towards mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and other issues.

This stigma can manifest in a number of ways, from casual “jokes” about mental health issues to discrimination against employees who disclose their diagnosis.

Mental health stigma at work is a serious issue that makes it difficult for employees to seek help because they may feel ashamed or embarrassed. It can also lead to prejudice and prevent people from getting the help they need.

Why Is It Important To Reduce Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace?

For many of us, the workplace is where we spend the majority of our time. It’s where we interact with colleagues, clients, and customers. It’s also a place where we can feel isolated, anxious, and stressed.

Research showed that only 20% of employees felt comfortable talking about their mental health issues at work. [1] If we can't be open about our struggles with mental health, it can lead to decreased job satisfaction, more errors, and decreased productivity. In addition, unaddressed and untreated mental health conditions can lead to serious mental illnesses. Therefore, it is vital that organizations start to reduce stigma.

Here's what happens when we start to address mental health stigmas at work:

  • Dispelled myths. When we openly discuss mental health, we normalize the experience. Open dialogue can help to get rid of misconceptions and negative stereotypes about behavioral health conditions.
  • Makes it easier to seek help. When employees feel comfortable talking about their behavioral health, they will be more inclined towards seeking mental health care early on, before their symptoms become severe.
  • Mental health benefits. Addressing a mental health issue early on could help avoid a serious mental illness, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder or substance abuse issue.
  • Physical health benefits. A study that looked at young adults with anxiety and depression found that they are more likely to smoke, have excess weight and experience heart problems. [2] Consequently, if those issues are addressed, physical health is improved.
  • More positive work environment. Employees who feel cared for are more likely to be open and honest with each other, leading to better communication and collaboration.
  • Increased job satisfaction. An open and inclusive environment makes employees feel valued. As a result, they are more likely to be engaged and satisfied with their jobs.
  • Better retention rates. Employees who feel supported by their employer are less likely to experience burnout, anxiety, or depression which makes them more likely to stay in their positions.

Solutions to Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace

Mental health stigma can lead to discrimination which includes everything from being passed over for promotions to being outright fired.

Research has shown that more than 60% of people with major depressive disorder have experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace. In highly developed countries, around 60% of participants stopped applying for a job or education because of anticipated discrimination. [3]

The good news is that there are steps that both employers and employees can take to create a stigma-free workplace.

Create a transparent workplace culture

The way we talk about mental health can have a big impact on how people think and feel about it. One way is to normalize the conversation by talking openly about your own experiences with mental health. This can help to break down the barriers and make it easier for others to open up.

Another way is to create an open environment by encouraging people to speak up if they're struggling. This could involve things like having regular check-ins with employees and setting up an anonymous reporting system for mental health concerns.

Reduce structural stigma

Structural mental health stigma at work refers to the systems and processes in place within an organization that support or perpetuate stigma. For example, a company may have a policy of not hiring people with a mental illness, or may require employees to disclose their mental health status in order to be considered for promotions.

To reduce structural stigma, companies need to make it clear that they value all employees, regardless of mental health status. This can be done through policies and procedures that protect workers with mental health conditions from discrimination.

Create an organization's behavioral health portfolio

There are many ways to provide mental health resources, but an important one is to create a behavioral health portfolio. This portfolio can include a variety of information, such as studies and reports on behavioral health, policies, and procedures, and mental health literacy training materials for staff.

By having this information readily available, organizations can be better prepared to address behavioral health issues when they arise. Additionally, the portfolio can be used as a resource for staff members who are seeking to improve their knowledge on this topic.

Eliminate discriminatory behavior

Bosses and co-workers can discriminate against an employee with a mental health condition in many ways. They may tease them, make fun of them, or exclude them from social activities. They may also give them extra work or unrealistic deadlines, or make it difficult for them to take time off for appointments or to recover from a mental health crisis.

While some of this discrimination may be unintentional, it can still have a profound impact on an employee's ability to do their job and maintain their mental health.

Organizations can help to eliminate discrimination against mentally struggling employees by providing training on anti-discrimination policies to all employees, including supervisors and managers. This training should cover what constitutes discriminatory behavior and the consequences of engaging in such behavior.

Encourage seeking treatment

One way that organizations can encourage employees to seek treatment for mental health issues is by creating a stigma-free environment. Organizations can provide insurance coverage for mental health services, which can help to reduce the financial barrier to seeking treatment.

In addition, employers can ensure that their EAPs are well-run and accessible to all employees. It is important to adequately staff the program, hiring enough counselors to meet the needs of the workforce. Employers should also make sure that employees are aware of the program and know how to access it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Mental Health Stigma Decreasing?

In recent years, there has been a shift in the mindset concerning mental wellness. Several high-profile celebrities have spoken openly about their battles with mental illness, helping to break down the barriers of stigma. When someone who is famous and seemingly has it all speaks out about their struggles, it reminds people that mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of wealth or status.

To illustrate this, in 2017 Prince Harry told the press about shutting down his emotions for twenty years after his mother, Princess Diana died. He then spoke about finally seeing a therapist and how it helped him to overcome his grief.

In a similarly confessional way, singer Demi Lovato produced a documentary about her recovery from bulimia and substance abuse problems. [4]

In addition, there has been an increase in public awareness campaigns such as World Mental Health Day, Every Mind Matters (a campaign run by NHS in England), and Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. All of them aim to educate people about their own mental health and reduce the stigma around it. [5]

As a result of these efforts, stigma is slowly but surely decreasing. While there is still a long way to go, the progress that has been made is encouraging and provides hope for the future.

What Are the Impacts of Mental Health Stigma?

Mental health stigma can lead to discrimination and exclusion from work and social activities.

In addition, untreated mental illness can lead to more serious mental health issues, such as major depression, eating disorders, or substance use disorders. It can also make it difficult for people to seek help for mental health concerns, which can delay or prevent treatment.

Stigmatizing mental health issues is a serious problem because it can have a negative impact on self-esteem, and overall quality of life. It is important to educate your staff about this stigma and its effects so that your organization can be an advocate for change.

Resources

1 American Psychiatric Association, 2019. https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/about-half-of-workers-are-concerned-about-discussing-mental-health-issues-in-the-workplace-a-third-worry-about-consequences-if-they-seek-help

2 Long, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2021/05/24/depression-and-anxiety-linked-to-lower-levels-of-heart-health-in-young-adults

3 Brouwers et al., 2016. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/2/e009961.info

4 Singh, 2020. https://www.insider.com/

5 Mental Health Foundation. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/public-engagement