Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace
Denae Friedheim
mental health stigma

Mental health is a measure of well-being which involves our emotions and our ability to overcome difficulties as well as our ability to navigate social situations and the world around us. Mental health stigma is a problem which makes sufferers feel ashamed and unable to admit their problems or seek help.

About 75% of employees report having issues that impacted their mental health.

Mental illness impacts an individual’s behaviors and how they think and interact with others. Mental illness tends to be episodic and is not mutually exclusive of positive mental health — that is, someone can have a mental illness diagnosis but have generally good mental health. Or, they can struggle with their mental health but not necessarily have a diagnosable mental illness.

  • 1 in 5 adults struggle with mental illness
  • Over 25% of young adults (18-25) struggle with mental illness
  • Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability in the US

Health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are often talked about more openly. But mental health stigma exists in the workplace despite the fact that it is treatable. 

Why is Mental Health Stigmatized?

Mental health stigma is when someone is viewed negatively because of a mental health condition, largely based on stereotypes and misconceptions. There are several reasons mental illness remains stigmatized in the workplace.

– People often do not feel comfortable openly discussing their mental health for fear of judgement from peers or superiors. 

– Mental health stigma has the potential to impact the ability for individuals to receive promotions and desired assignments. 

– Additionally, social exclusion tends to intensify mental health issues. 

– Physical health issues can often result in or intensify mental health issues and vice versa. As a result, both are harder to alleviate

What is the Impact?

  • 8 of 10 workers with a mental health issue claim that shame and stigma keep them from seeking treatment.
  • Employee turnover rates are higher for those struggling with depression. They are 20-40% more likely to become unemployed due to their depression
  • Substance abuse disorders and suicide can stem from untreated mental health issues.
    • 800,000 people die by suicide each year, the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds
  • It is estimated that depression alone costs the US economy $210 billion dollars, about 50% of which is likely taken on by employers
    • Untreated depression costs $9,450 per individual in lost productivity and non-attendance

Developing a Supportive Approach in the Workplace

The approach to developing a supportive workplace environment for those with mental health issues should be multifaceted:

  1. Awareness – Decreasing mental health stigma in the workplace is a critical first step in creating this environment. For example, consider developing a plan to raise awareness among employees about the prevalence and common misconceptions related to mental health issues. As a result, normalizing conversation around mental health issues can help to reduce stigma.
  1. Education Make sure you know how to talk about mental health in a way that is respectful. Refer to others in the most humanizing manner possible by using first-person language. For example, say “a person with bipolar disorder” as opposed to “a bipolar person.” 

The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion is a great resource for employers looking to educate themselves and their staff on how to support those with mental health issues.

  1. Accessibility & Early Intervention – Make sure employees know about health insurance coverage, employee assistance programs, tele-health/app-based support, and other employer-provided services that address mental health issues.

Cost is a significant barrier to accessing mental health care. Make sure that the health plans offered to employees have comprehensive coverage for mental health care services. 

Everyone is susceptible to stress that can lead to more severe mental health conditions. Encouraging self-care and prevention is key to a productive and healthy workplace.

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