Eliminating mental health stigma and discrimination is the first and foremost challenge facing any employer wishing to respond to the mental health needs of their staff.
Understanding stigma and discrimination
Stigma is where an an employee (or potential employee) is perceived as being different because of their mental health problems. Prejudice about mental health may be conscious or unconscious. If a member of staff is treated differently by managers, colleagues or a recruiter, this may also be discrimination and might be against the law.
Stigma takes many forms. In some cases, it can be very blatant – such as when people use insulting phrases like ‘nutter’, ‘psycho’ or ‘they're mental’ which can be extremely hurtful. In other cases, it is more subtle - being left out of discussions by colleagues or being talked about behind backs.
At its worst someone might lose their job. A recent UK wide stigma survey found that one in five people had lost their job due to stigma. It can also result in being written off for promotion or a new job because of uninformed assumptions about whether they would be able to cope with the new responsibilities.
In all cases, stigma and discrimination can undermine morale, causing loss of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Challenging stigma and discrimination
Eliminating stigma and discrimination is the first and foremost challenge facing any employer wishing to respond to the mental health needs of their staff. Stigma makes trust harder to establish and employees will be unwilling to discuss or disclose their mental health problems. Find out more about what you can do as an employer or employee.
Recognising and eliminating Stigma
Stigma is where an employee (or potential employee) is perceived as being different, perhaps due to a lack of knowledge or prejudice because of their mental health problems. If they are treated differently, and are disadvantaged by this, it may also be discrimination.
Eliminating stigma is the first and foremost challenge facing any employer wishing to respond to the mental health needs of their staff. See Me's campaign 'Power of okay' is a first step to encourage people to be more open about talking about mental health and how they are feeling. Asking someone who may be struggling 'are you okay?' and really listening to the response can be the difference between someone coping or not.
An important aspect to eliminating stigma and discrimination is fostering a comprehensive awareness of mental health throughout the whole workplace. See Me's e-Learning programme provides practical tools and guidance on understanding the impact of mental health stigma and discrimination, people's rights and legal obligations from recruitment, while in work and when returning to work.
As an employer you have a legal and moral obligation to look after the welfare of your staff:
- Lead by example. Develop a culture where managers and staff feel able to talk openly about mental health
- Adopt a zero tolerance attitude to stigma and discrimination
- Ensure management and staff are aware of legal and moral protections
- Support development of relevant policies and put them into practice
- Ensure managers and staff are trained to spot and respond to early signs of mental distress
- Raise awareness of mental health through events and training and allow staff time off to participate
- Sign up to the See Me in Work programme
If you are experiencing stigma and discrimination at work:
- Talk to someone you trust who has time to listen about how you are feeling
- If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), you may wish to contact them
- External organisations can offer you independent advice about your situation
- Find out more about your rights as an employee
- Find out if your employer has a mental health policy, or one on bullying and harassment
- Find out what grievance procedures exist and decide what to do next