Reducing the Stigma of Mental Health at Work

One in four adults will struggle with a mental health issue during their lifetime. At work, those suffering — from clinical conditions or more minor ones — often hide it for fear that they may face discrimination from rivals or even bosses. 

Managers are likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Those mental health experiences will differ according to race, economic opportunity, work type/physical environment and many other variables. These stigmas can be and should be defeated. 

When managers understand mental health issues and respond to them, it can make all the difference for an employee professionally and personally. This involves taking notice, offering a helping hand, and saying, “I’m here, I have your back, you are not alone.”

When your people are struggling, you want them to open up and ask for help. For some people who are struggling with mental health, not talking about it is one of the worst parts. So by getting individuals talking about mental health, we can start to break down stereotypes. We can then improve relationships, increase access to support and remove mental health stigma.

The following five strategies can help any manager or organization create a culture that ceases to stigmatize mental illness.

Here are five ways managers can help drive a more empathetic culture:

1. Pay attention to language.

We all need to be aware of the words we use that can contribute to stigmatizing mental health issues: “Mr O.C.D is at it again — organizing everything.” “She’s schizo today!”

“He is so bi-polar this week — one minute he’s up, the next he’s down.” We’ve heard comments like these, maybe even made them ourselves.

But through the ears of a colleague who has a mental health challenge, they can sound like indictments. Would you open up about a disorder or tell your team supervisor you needed time to see a therapist after hearing these words?

2. Rethink “sick days".

If you have cancer, no one says, “Let’s just push through” or “Can you learn to deal with it?”

They know that it’s an illness, and you’ll need to take time off to treat it. If you have the flu, your manager will tell you to go home and rest.

But few people in business would then react to emotional outbursts or other signs of stress, anxiety, or manic behaviour in the same way.

We need to get more comfortable suggesting and requesting days to improve mental and physical health.

3. Encourage open and honest conversations.

It’s vital to create safe spaces for people to talk about their own challenges, past and present, without fear of being called “unstable” or passed up for the next big project or promotion.

Employees shouldn’t fear that they will be judged or excluded if they open up in this way. Managers can set the tone for this by sharing their own experiences or stories of other people who have struggled with mental health issues, accepting help and continuing a successful career. 

They should also explicitly encourage everyone to speak up when feeling overwhelmed or in need.

4. Be proactive

Not all stress is negative, and people in high-pressure careers often grow accustomed to it or develop coping mechanisms. However, prolonged unmanageable stress can contribute to worsening symptoms of mental illness.

The US gymnast Simone Biles at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is a current example of how stress affects her mental health and performance. In May, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka also withdrew from the French Open to protect her mental health.

Therefore, stopping and saying ‘there’s something wrong” and asking for help is a massive step for both of them. 

Being on the world stage, putting their mental health first, takes bravery and courage to end their aspirations and dreams for gold.

How can managers ensure their employees are finding the right balance?

By offering access to programs, resources, and education on stress management and resilience-building. 

In a prevailing marketplace survey on employee burnout, nearly 70 per cent of respondents said that their employers were not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout.

Managers need to do a better job of helping their employees connect to resources before stress leads to more severe problems.

5. Train people to notice and respond

Most offices keep a medical kit around in case someone needs a bandage or an aspirin. We’ve also begun to train our people in Mental Health First Aid, a national program proven to increase people’s ability to recognize the signs of someone who may be struggling with a mental health challenge and connect them to appropriate support resources. 

Through role-plays and other activities, they offer guidance in listening non-judgmentally, offering reassurance, and assessing the risk of suicide or self-harm when, for example, a colleague is suffering a panic attack or reacting to a traumatic event. 

However, assessing Mental Health issues can be difficult, with emotionally charged conversations, and they can come at unexpected times, so it’s essential to be ready for them.


Nearly 42% of employees report a decline in mental health since the pandemic began. (August 2020) . We are living in uncertain times. Before the pandemic, many companies had increased their focus on workplace mental health (often in response to employee pressure).

Those efforts are even more imperative today.


Emergency services

Tel: 999

If you see a young person dealing with mental health who you feel is at high risk, please get in touch with emergency services.


Tel: 116 123

It is a safe place for people to talk any time they like, in their own way – about whatever’s getting to them.


An online community is offering support and advice on managing mental health.


Emotional support, guidance and information to anyone affected by mental illness, including families, friends and carers.


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