Breaking The Stigma Of Mental Health Issues in The Workplace

Mental Health

Breaking The Stigma Of Mental Health Issues in The Workplace

The impact of mental health in the workplace and the way in which it is dealt with has been a topic of much discussion for years. Recent reports and guidance suggest that there may be signs of the stigma attached to mental health issues being lessened. Guidance about return to work procedures has recently been published. Figures show increased understanding, tolerance and sympathy. Yet at the same time other, negative, views of mental health remain as fixed and stigmatised as ever. In this post we review some of the recent findings and ask whether attitudes towards mental health in workplaces really have changed.

mental health in the workplace

For context, the author of this post was treated for mental health conditions whilst working for 5 different employers. Four of these were within the education system; the fifth for a medium sized ICT company. The level of understanding and support offered covered the whole spectrum with some excellent and some woeful practices from those employers.

This article by The Pool looks at a wide range of reports. They all seem to suggest that attitudes towards mental health are improving. More people are talking openly about such issues. There is more media exposure to anxiety, depression, panic attacks etc. Yet it starts, quite bluntly, with the stark fact that nine out of ten people who have stated mental health as a reason for absence from work feel as though this led to discrimination against them.

The author of the article, Louisa Pritchard, goes on to look at a range of angles on this situation. Evidence from a MIND survey is cited that shows that, in very simple terms, people lie about the cause of absence rather than state mental health. She also quotes the Chief Executive of MIND in a more recent report, that suggests that workplace attitudes are improving at a reasonable rate:

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, has also noticed a shift, dubbing it the “quiet revolution… taking place around the water cooler as more and more people talk openly about mental health”. He said, “We are now at a tipping point, with increasing acknowledgement from employers that more needs to be done to help people stay well at work.”

Things such as mental health first aid training courses have emerged that assist employers in their attempts to improve support. Of course that, where applied, will be of benefit. Is it typical though?

The Blurt Foundation wrote last week about how staff returning to work after an absence relating to mental health ought to be treated. It has clear and relatively straight forward ideas about good practice in this area. However, the issue is that ultimately, whether that works is largely down to the attitude of the Human Resources (HR) Department and / or the culture of the company.


In an ironic twist, there was evidence in early August that showed that the public in general don’t trust people with mental health issues looking after children. It is of course ironic as teaching, as a profession, has one of the highest levels of absence due to mental health or stress. More ironic is that whilst a pupil with mental health issues is likely to receive lots of care and support, it is likely that the member of staff will receive a much less sympathetic ear.

The attitudes, in general, are reflected in the workplace. The statistics below are from a recent survey. If this is what the population thinks of someone who has fairly typical signs of depression, how likely are they to be supported in a workplace? How likely is it that the sufferer would feel comfortable discussing their condition with HR? It is a huge societal issue that needs to be addressed.

Joe Laughran, of the Time to Change campaign, stated in a report on mental health that:

Every day we hear first-hand the devastating impact that stigma has on people’s lives: causing them to lose jobs and their chance to fulfil their potential, and damaging relationships with friends and family. The research highlights that people with schizophrenia are feeling the benefits of improved attitudes much less than those with depression. We must get to a point where no matter what the diagnosis, no one with a mental health problem is made to feel ashamed and isolated.

Why isn’t Mental Health in the workplace taken more seriously?

Let’s face it, every day of absence by a worker loses productivity for a company. Helping staff, with whatever condition, can only be a good thing in the long term. Right? We think so. However mental health does still have a stigma. For some employers, it can be viewed as being an ‘excuse’ or laziness. To others it simply hinders progress towards a target. Misunderstanding also causes problems. In simple terms, a counselling session doesn’t quite carry as much weight as the need for a pre-op or a doctors appointment. It’s also hard to discuss. It’s easier for a HR department to discuss the recovery cycle for someone who has an industrial accident or who has had a disease. It is less embarrassing. It has relatively straight forward recovery rates and the reasonable adjustments are commonplace. For a member of staff with a mental health problem, the timescale is harder to determine, the adjustments are less predictable and the impact on performance harder to quantify: which, ultimately, leads to discrimination.

Further reading

The Pool

Leave a Reply