Mental health stigma in the workplace
Employers and managers play an important role in helping to reduce mental health stigma, which is a key challenge facing many workplaces.
Mental health stigma is the negative view or attitude towards people struggling with their mental health, including those living with a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.
Stigma in the workplace can:
- lead to discriminatory behaviour, including harassment
- affect people’s attitudes and beliefs towards those struggling with their mental health (including themselves)
- prevent those struggling with their mental health from feeling safe to disclose and seek support from their employer and others around them.
An open and inclusive workplace, where workers feel safe and supported to seek help early, is better for everyone.
Watch this short video by the Black Dog Institute which explains how mental health stigma impacts people in the workplace:
Types of stigma in the workplace
Personal stigma is a person’s stigmatising attitudes and beliefs about other people.
Personal stigma can lead to:
- harassment of a colleague in relation to their mental health
- the decision not to employ or promote somebody in relation to their mental health
- unfair assumptions being made about the capability of somebody in relation to their mental health.
Perceived stigma is a person’s beliefs about the negative and stigmatising views that other people hold.
Perceived stigma may:
- prevent somebody from seeking a promotion, as they believe their colleagues judge them in relation to their mental health
- stop someone from seeking support from their colleagues, as they assume they will be treated badly or there will be negative consequences if they disclose that they are struggling with their mental health or have a mental health condition.
Self-stigma is the stigmatising views that individuals hold about themselves.
- prevent someone who is struggling with their mental health from seeking help, as they believe they should be stronger or more resilient and able to recover on their own
- prevent somebody from seeking employment or promotion, as they feel they are unworthy due to struggling with their mental health.
Structural stigma is where the policies and cultural norms of workplaces restrict the opportunities, resources and wellbeing of those struggling with their mental health or living with a mental health condition.
Structural stigma may:
- lead employers to limit the help or support provided to their workers in relation to a worker’s wellbeing and mental health
- make it difficult for somebody who is struggling with their mental health to seek formal support when policies are in place that require all workers to meet certain health requirements.
Why workplaces need to focus on stigma
Mental health stigma is a key challenge facing many workplaces.
Increased productivity and work participation
Mentally healthy workplaces deliver improved productivity and workforce participation.
Workplaces that foster and support the psychological health and wellbeing of workers address stigma early and encourage help-seeking behaviour. These workplaces are likely to experience less absenteeism, presenteeism, employee turnover and psychological claims.
Evidence tells us that just over half (or 54 per cent) of people with a mental health condition are not seeking treatment. The longer a person delays treatment, the more likely they are to take leave, resulting in significant impacts not only for the worker, but for the team and the workplace.
Better health outcomes
Stigma may prevent a person experiencing a mental health issue from seeking help in a timely manner. This can lead to poorer health outcomes.
Stigma may lead workers to hide or ignore risks to their mental health for fear of negative repercussions in the workplace, such as being treated differently or losing their job. This in turn can hamper employers’ ability to identify and quickly respond to the risks, which may lead to more severe health outcomes for workers.
What you can do
What managers can do to reduce stigma
Workers can be directly impacted by the behaviour of their managers.
The actions of managers can help reduce stigma in the workplace - managers can:
- Learn more about mental health and how best to respond in the workplace.
- Establish a positive working environment by minimising workplace risks to mental health, such as job stress.
- Develop workplace mental health and wellbeing policies, where they are required.
- Communicate the commitment to equal opportunity and privacy–this will help develop a safe and inclusive culture in the workplace.
- Educate teams around mental health, such as through online resources and training.
- Speak openly about mental health in the workplace, which can make others feel more comfortable to do the same.
- Have regular conversations with staff and check on their wellbeing.
See resources to assist managers in building the capability to support mentally healthy workplaces.
What employers can do to reduce stigma
Employers and organisations have an influence on workplace stigma at a systematic level through their policies, monitoring of practices, and by providing relevant resources.
Employers, senior executives and leaders can take actions to reduce workplace stigma:
Visibly commit to a mental health policy
Visibly commit to a mental health policy or strategy that aims to reduce stigma and promote good mental health in the workplace. When workers see that their senior leaders are committed to creating a safe and inclusive culture, they may feel more comfortable to discuss and better manage their own mental health.
Build mental health awareness
Build and develop the mental health awareness of workers by making information, tools and support accessible. Better understanding around mental health can build trust between colleagues.
Encourage open conversations
Encourage open conversations about mental health and support services provided by the organisation on a regular basis, particularly during the recruitment process and at times when workers may be struggling. Talking openly about the services available and encourage people to use them when they are needed.
Offer appropriate workplace adjustments
Offer appropriate workplace adjustments to workers experiencing mental health issues. These should be determined in consultation with the individual workers who require them. Often, quick and easy adjustments can be made that will help workers manage their mental health and improve their productivity.
Provide workers with a health and safe workplace
Provide workers with a healthy and safe workplace by routinely monitoring and addressing identified psychosocial hazards. Having these issues addressed (or giving good reasons why they cannot be addressed) promptly communicates to workers that their employer prioritises their health and safety.
Train managers in your workplace
Train managers to have effective and regular conversations about health and wellbeing with their workers. The right training can provide managers with the capability and the confidence to support their workers around mental health.
Just over two-thirds of respondents in a 2013 study said they believed they would feel uncomfortable disclosing a mental illness to an employer.
One-third of respondents ruled out the possibility completely.
Fear and shame around mental health conditions can stem from anticipation or lived experiences of, mental health stigma.
Information and resources to support stigma reduction in the workplace.
- Work, Mental Illness and Stigma video
- What You’re Thinking Isn’t What They’re Thinking video
- Know When Anxiety is Talking video.
Factsheets and information
- Time to change – Stigma reduction resources for workplaces
- Seven Actions to create a mentally healthy workplace – Heads Up and Beyond Blue
- Workplace Wellbeing factsheet – Black Dog Institute 2020
- Reducing Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace factsheet – Queensland Mental Health Commission 2019
- Language and Stigma – Everymind
- What is a Healthy Workplace? – Heads Up and Beyond Blue.
- Mental Health is Everybody's Business training – Black Dog Institute
- Mental Health First Aid training
- Mental Health Toolbox talks – Heads Up.
- Better Mental Health at Work - Why it Matters? – Heads Up and Beyond Blue 2017.