Creating Stigma-Free Cultures is Key to Mental Wellness at Work

The difficulties of the last year and a half have pushed discussions about mental health at work to the fore

The repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic—increased social isolation, greater uncertainty, as well as increased political and social upheaval in many parts of the world—paints a vivid picture of how mental health can be badly affected. The truth is that the pandemic continues to have an impact on the mental and emotional health of an increasing number of people, an impact that could persist for years.

While media outlets and people in the public eye are speaking out about the importance of mental health, the workplace is typically a less friendly environment for transparency. Too many employees are apprehensive about discussing mental health at work. Employees and workplaces suffer as a result of the stigma around mental illness.

Most people with mental illnesses have been blamed for their conditions at some point in their lives. They've been given a variety of names. Their symptoms have been described as "a phase" or as something they could control "if they just tried." They might believe that they are being discriminated against at work. Stigma wields an unmanageable power in this way. People experience shame as a result of stigma, which leads to negative perceptions and low self-esteem. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), eight out of ten people with mental illnesses experience feelings of humiliation, and more than a third are concerned about their job stability. According to a recent poll by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), stigma is the top mental health concern that employers want to address, with many planning de-stigmatization initiatives and manager training aimed at raising awareness.

Moving toward a stigma-free future

Employers have a unique opportunity to make it simpler for their employees to seek treatment by tackling stigma in the workplace. Employees are more likely to be aware of available options, begin treatment sooner, and recover in less time in a working atmosphere where mental illness is not stigmatized. At the same time, employers may find it difficult to initiate this conversation. Multiple elements are at work, including attitudes and ideas regarding mental illness, which are moulded over time by a variety of social, cultural, and economic contexts. The National Alliance on Mental Illness designed a program to help businesses take important steps toward being stigma-free to make it easier for employers to discuss this difficult subject.

What do stigma-free cultures at work look like?

Employees have a lot on their plates outside of work, from childcare to financial challenges to stress and anxiety management. It's impossible for employees to check their mental health problems at the door each morning when they arrive at work, especially when the job adds to their stress. In fact, 52% of employees have admitted to sobbing at the office over a work-related issue. Because our working environment has a significant influence on us, workplaces must be mentally healthy and supportive. In order for employees to feel at ease, companies should create mental health policies. Here are a few examples:

  • Adequate insurance coverage

  • Employee assistance programs

  • Access to quality care

  • Policies to support family caregivers

Employees can also be shown encouragement by their employers. Supervisors and employees should be open to discussing how to assist employee mental health, be proactive in contacting coworkers who may be struggling, and understand if someone requires adjustments or time off work. Of course, offering management training is critical for managers to understand how to conduct productive talks regarding mental health and wellbeing in the context of performance and discipline. Using non-stigmatizing language in the workplace, encouraging employees to support one another, and giving mental health resources all contribute to healthy workplace cultures.

Simple changes to the way companies approach mental wellness can only have a meaningful impact on the work environment of their employees and their families. A stigma-free culture is key to mental wellness at work, and we should all strive to learn more and do better.