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Reducing the stigma around employee mental health

How employers can help reduce the stigma around mental health

People in healthcare series

For many of us, the pandemic has introduced many challenges to our life, left us isolated and taken away many of the activities that are good for our wellbeing. The economic impact has impacted careers, livelihoods, and the ambitions of young people wanting to pursue them. The risk of infection, and the impact of the virus on our loved ones, is a burden we now carry with us every day. It’s no wonder that our mental health is suffering.

On the bright side, a global conversation around mental health has opened up as a result of the crisis. We’re seeing more high profile people speaking up about mental illness and in general, public attitudes are improving. However, a recent study found that high levels of stigma towards common mental health conditions remain – and we often have misconceptions about what some diagnoses mean.1

Non-conscious public attitudes towards depression in the UK

By research specialists, Versiti

Some of the findings from the report suggested that:

  • Depression is negatively associated with all sorts of work roles. Of the roles tested, people living with depression were only positively associated with being ‘cleaners’
  • People affected by depression are considered more negatively than people affected by other conditions on the vast majority of the 44 traits tested
  • The public consider people living with depression to be fundamentally different from themselves.1

Clearly, we have a long way to go in our efforts to reduce the stigma around common mental health problems. The study highlights the difficult decision people have to make on whether to disclose their mental health condition to others – including their managers.

Throughout the pandemic, healthcare sector staff have experienced significant changes in the way they work. Workforce fatigue has peaked and the long term sustainability of people’s wellbeing has become a concern.2 This level of exhaustion not only puts individuals at greater risk of developing a mental health issue, but can impact the quality of care that patients and service-users receive.

Staff stress and burn-out can result in increased sickness absence levels, with an estimated one in five people taking a day off due to stress. Yet, 90% of these will cite a different reason for their absence.3

This staggering discovery came from a survey of more than 2000 UK employees.

The most common reasons given for not citing mental health for their absence were:

  • 23% felt too embarrassed
  • 24% believed their employer would be unable to help
  • 19% thought it might jeopardise their career.

Sophie Holland, senior research executive at Opinium, says “Clearly there are still significant barriers preventing employees from talking about their mental wellbeing to their employers, and this needs to change.

Culture is key here. Employers need to work to create safe spaces where their employees feel comfortable talking about mental health and wellbeing, both good and bad experiences, allowing employees to bring their full selves to work. However, it is also important that workplaces have the support structures and initiatives in place.

Every workplace is different, and different teams may need different initiatives to support them. Therefore, it is vital that employers listen to their employees and understand what works best for them.”4

Equip managers with the necessary skills

When employers equip managers and supervisors with the necessary skills, early warning signs of stress and mental health issues are identified earlier. Using leadership initiatives to advance the conversation can help to remove the barriers around talking about mental health.

Use data to understand employee needs

In a bid to support employees suffering in silence, employers can turn to analysing trends using data from anonymous surveys/focus groups and existing programmes such as the employee assistance programme (EAP) and health screenings. Insights from these analyses may help employers understand the main behavioural issues allowing them to implement the most effective solutions.

It is important to continue to monitor the uptake and outcome of any solutions introduced, to make sure the programmes are appropriate, and working.5

Let us help you take action

Taking steps to create a more open and supportive culture will, over time, see staff begin to feel more confident to talk to managers about their mental health.

One way to help reduce stigma is introducing Mental Health First Aiders. Training as many mental health first-aiders as there are physical first-aiders sends a clear message that mental and physical health are equally important.

We work with organisations like yours to assess how you can benefit from investing in mental health.

What we do:

  • Assessments and baseline surveys with analytics to measure current state of mental health, wellbeing, and progress to support your future strategy
  • Development of your communication strategy in respect to mental health and wellbeing
  • Face to face and online training programmes including bespoke courses on Mental Health First Aid and line manager training
  • Workshops and sessions on mindfulness, nutrition, financial matters, and wellbeing issues.
  • We work with Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) to provide a wider perspective on employee benefit strategies.

By improving the mental health in the workplace, your organisation could benefit from:

  • Compliance with ‘The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974’
  • Reduced grievances and improved employee performance
  • Reduced risk of employment liability claims
  • Financial value – on average for every £1 spent on supporting people’s mental health, employees get £5 back on their investment (Deloitte 2020)
  • Attraction of new talent and retention of employees
  • Potential for a healthier and a more efficient and productive workplace.6

Get in touch for access to a free survey – helping you to benchmark against your current arrangements. Contact the Health and Care team on 0113 350 8712 or complete an online form and we’ll contact you.



  1. https://www.mindwisenv.org/news-blogs/2021/may/study-of-public-attitudes-to-depression-in-the-uk/
  2. Maris Stratulis (British Association of Social Workers)
  3. https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/research-and-evaluation/mental-health-statistics/
  4. https://employeebenefits.co.uk/four-fifths-poor-mental-wellbeing/
  5. Mercer.com
  6. Marsh Advisory UK &I : Mental health and wellbeing