Mental Health Stigma

Mental health problems are difficult for anyone to live with but they can become even worse when there’s a stigma attached.

We’ve asked Paul Holcroft, Associate Director at Croner, expert consultants in Employment Law, HR, and Health & Safety, to give us his thoughts on how organisations can recognise the signs of mental health stigma and avoid its negative effects in the workplace.

The stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health

Every year, one in six UK employees experience a psychological problem at work. Despite this, there are still many misconceptions surrounding mental health.

Many people living with these problems are reluctant to seek help because of the stigma they think they’ll face as a result.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to address and remove this stigma from the workplace, along with any associated discrimination. But to do that, you need to understand what mental health stigma is.

This article explains what the term means, why it’s a problem, and how to prevent it at work.

What is mental health stigma?

Stigma takes place when a person is labelled as tainted or damaged because of a certain quality or circumstance. In this case, because of mental illness.

It stems from society deeming particular characteristics to be a disadvantage.

In the workplace, this means perceiving a colleague or employee in a negative way due to their mental state. This can lead to isolation, exclusion or unfair treatment, which in turn makes the situation worse for the person experiencing mental health issues.

Types of mental health stigma

There are two main forms of stigma: social and self.

Social stigma

This type of stigma is negative stereotyping linked to mental illnesses. Also known as public stigma, social stigma can mark employees with mental health problems as “different” and result in them being treated in a different way to other people.


Self-stigma happens almost as a result of social stigma; it’s where a person with mental health problems becomes aware of negative public perceptions of their condition and internalises them.

Why stigma is a problem

Mental health stigma is a huge issue because it discourages people from talking about their problems.

If it exists in your workplace, employees who are experiencing issues are unlikely to want to discuss them with you. They might worry about being shunned by their colleagues or be embarrassed to discuss their condition.

This, of course, is harmful to their wellbeing, but it can also spell bad news for your business. Being unable to address a mental health problem can make it worse, which might then lead to a drop in productivity, an increase in absenteeism and a higher turnover rate.  

Almost 9 in 10 people with mental health problems said that discrimination and stigma has had a negative impact on their lives. There are a number of consequences to this, such as social isolation and unemployment.

With that in mind, it’s important to address stigma in the workplace and make sure that anyone who is suffering is not afraid to speak up.

How to prevent mental health stigma in the workplace  

Luckily, there are some helpful ways to focus on the health and wellbeing of staff and eradicate stigma among your employees. These include:

Holding open discussions about mental health

Talking openly about mental health encourages your employees to do the same and removes some of the negative connotations associated with it.

Opening the communication lines in this way sends a powerful message to your team and lets employees know that it’s okay to seek help.

Educating senior staff

You can also use this opportunity to educate senior staff and managers about the symptoms of common mental health conditions. Not only will this help to reduce stigma, but it will also help them to support employees who are struggling.

One thing to be aware of when discussing mental health in the workplace is the language you use. Carefully consider your word choices and avoid any terms that might have a negative effect, such as ‘crazy’ or ‘unstable’.

Encouraging mental health days

If a member of your workforce had the flu, you wouldn’t think twice about them calling in sick. But what if they needed time off for their mental health?

As we’ve already highlighted in a previous blog, the concept of Mental Health Days, popular in America, is being embraced by some UK organisations.

While many are now recognising that ill mental health is a serious issue, the same can’t be said for every business.

Companies that introduce the concept of Mental Health Days into their occupational health strategies will be seen as progressive and innovative employers who prioritise the needs of their staff.

Mental Health First Aid

Introducing Mental Health First Aid training can teach people how to help someone experiencing mental health problems.

First developed in Australia, it aims to teach people how to offer initial support until appropriate professional help is received.

While its effectiveness in managing mental health issues hasn’t been endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it was found to raise awareness of mental health issues.

Tackling mental health stigma

This is only a starting point and there are plenty of ways to reduce mental health stigma in the workplace.

Open up a discussion today to help your team feel at ease should they need to talk to you about their mental health.

If you’d like to find out how our occupational health services can help you to tackle mental health stigma in the workplace, give us a call.

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Categories: EmployeesHealth & WellbeingMental HealthOccupational Health

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