Why mental health stigma in the workplace is an issue
Mental health is an increasingly important issue to address in the workplace. Although conversations and awareness about mental health, in general, have taken a more positive tone in recent years, mental health stigma still exists. The stigma, or negative attitudes and discrimination, against mental health is a serious issue, especially in the workplace. It can often prevent employees from seeking and receiving necessary care. Given that, 79% of employees are more likely to stay at a company that provides high-quality resources to care for their mental health, Unaddressed mental health concerns can lead to reduced productivity, missed workdays, and high turnover. This means that workplace mental health stigma is a problem for both the employee and the employer.
Workplace mental health stigma is the discrimination of employees who experience mental health conditions. It can manifest in a number of ways, such as an employee feeling uncomfortable seeking help for anxiety or depression because they fear that doing so will jeopardize their job security. In some cases, employees may even avoid disclosing their mental health condition for fear of being passed over for promotions. Stigma can come from anticipated or real acts of discrimination. Some studies suggest that mental health stigma may be an important contributing factor to the underutilization of healthcare services at work. Addressing mental health stigma in the workplace can foster a greater sense of safety and connection for all employees.
People experiencing mental health conditions may face the highest degree of workplace discrimination of any group. In 2021, The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 22,843 reports of disability discrimination. This fear of discrimination and rejection leads to silence and prevents employees from seeking treatment and support.
Even in progressive and supportive companies, staff members tend to keep their mental health conditions to themselves. Stigma in the workplace is especially a problem when workplace culture doesn’t foster a sense of acceptance and support for mental health. Employees may be treated differently or feel worried about their reputation or losing their job due to their mental health concerns. In the past 5 years, 28% of employees have changed companies for the sake of their mental health.
There is a high cost to workplace mental health stigma since it is a barrier to mental healthcare. In 2019 the World Economic Forum projected that mental health concerns will cost nations $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030 (AHA CEO Roundtable.) Stigma can also cost your company by creating an environment where employees with mental health concerns internalize negative stereotypes and feel less confident in their work, or even avoid taking on additional tasks for fear of failure.
Mental health is often overlooked when addressing a workplace budget because the expenses are often indirect. The cost of employee burnout comes when you have high turnover rates from employees with mental health concerns that are not addressed or treated. Addressing mental health stigma can help reduce untreated mental health concerns.
Studies show a link between mental and physical health. Investing in mental health treatment has shown to be cost-effective. Employees with untreated mental conditions have more physical health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. Addressing mental health stigma helps to foster an emotionally safe environment where employees can take care of all facets of their health.
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While addressing mental health concerns is a multifaceted issue for individuals, there are a few strategies workplaces can apply to build organizational resilience in response to workplace stigma. Leaders should develop policies that support employees with mental health conditions and provide resources for employees who may need assistance. The Center for Workplace Mental Health suggests a program that offers three steps to take in order to help those affected by mental health issues. First, identify the signs of distress, then connect with the person experiencing distress, and finally collaborate to understand a way forward together.
Once you’ve identified the strategies that are going to be most effective for your workplace, special guidelines and policies should be drafted. Establish communication processes that address employees’ education, awareness, and understanding of stigma and safety relating to mental health. Clear communication about the steps you take to eliminate workplace stigma can help employees feel understood. This builds trust, aids in employee retention, and helps send a positive message.
Make sure everyone in the company is aware of the resources available to them. This includes choosing the right mental health benefits for employees and making access to these benefits clear. This also helps reduce the cost of unused benefits. When leadership, management, and coworkers can all communicate with the same supportive and accepting message, the stigma against mental health is reduced and a healthy workplace can blossom.
Knowing the impact of mental health stigma, how can you foster an environment where employees feel safe and supported in coming forward? Managers and supervisors are uniquely positioned to notice the signs and symptoms of distress and address employees through a strength-based lens. Strength-based methods aim to identify and enhance what is being done well, rather than trying to diagnose or “fix” an individual. Positive approaches aim to promote conversation and access to established workplace resources.
In a confidential survey, 40% of employees reported that they wanted their managers and supervisors trained to identify emotional distress among workers. As a trusted leader, you are in a position to support an employee’s healing journey. When an employee comes forward with mental health concerns, devote your full attention to their concerns. By being attentive and supportive, employers can help their team be aware of internal resources, access treatment sooner, and improve their mental health.
If you want to learn more about reducing mental health stigma in the workplace, download our Modern Belonging Part Two playbook that will offer practical insights and tips to address mental health stigma in your workplace.
Modern Health is the comprehensive mental wellness platform that combines the WHO well-being assessment, self-service wellness kits, an international network of certified coaches, and licensed therapists available in 35 languages all in a single app. Modern Health empowers employers to lead the charge in acknowledging that mental health is just as important as physical health, de-stigmatizing the conversation, and increasing accessibility of mental health services for all.
Modern Health’s clinically-designed substance use support addresses the entire spectrum of needs, providing proactive detection and outreach, comprehensive clinical treatment, specialized care coordination for members with high-acuity needs, and evidence-based preventative care and education.
Lydia Wright, Senior Manager of Global Benefits at Atlassian, and Emma Woodburn, Benefits Specialist at Intel, join Modern Health at Elevate 2022 to discuss how culturally centered care and engagement campaigns in preferred languages and time zones significantly boosts employee benefit utilization.