Companies urged to tackle stigma of mental illness

A new survey in Scotland shows that some employees still worry about disclosing mental health difficulties in the workplace

31st August 2022 about a 3 minute read
“I went over and over in my head, thinking my colleagues wouldn’t understand why I was off, that my boss wouldn’t get it and then I wouldn’t be given any responsibility at work." Shiona Callum, See Me ambassador

Nearly two in five workers believe that a fear of losing their job could stop colleagues from disclosing their mental health problems.

The survey, conducted by Censuswide for See Me, a mental health programme funded by the Scottish government, also found that the same proportion (38%) believe that employees would keep difficulties with their mental health to themselves for fear of being discriminated against by colleagues.

Speaking about the findings, See Me called on companies to do more to tackle the stigma surrounding mental ill health. The charity’s director, Wendy Halliday, said: “If stigma persists, people leave jobs – it doesn’t matter if they’re the best member of staff, if they can’t cope and they aren’t supported, they won’t stay.

“Tackling stigma and discrimination at work is more than just putting up posters and arranging wellbeing sessions – there needs to be a thorough and considered drive to improve cultures, policies and practices to remove stigma.

“If workplaces properly support staff struggling with their mental health then it can increase productivity, reduce sickness rates and help employees return to work quicker.”

Discrimination can lead to further illness

Tommy Kelly, a See Me volunteer, said he had suffered discrimination at work because of mental health problems: “I found it really hard to be heard because I didn’t know who to reach out to. Experiencing discrimination can push you further into your illness, you start to believe it’s your fault and you don’t know where to go.”

The BBC technology reporter Shiona Callum, an ambassador for See Me, said she had kept her experiences of PTSD to herself as she was worried about the impact it would have on her career and how people in work would react. She struggled to cope and was worried that people wouldn’t listen to her experience. “I had to eventually take time off work when everything got bad,” she said. “I went over and over in my head, thinking my colleagues wouldn’t understand why I was off, that my boss wouldn’t get it and then I wouldn’t be given any responsibility at work.

“I thought it would lead to a backwards step with my career because people would judge me.”

When she did open up to her manager she received a positive response, however.

Halliday said that mental health discrimination “often comes from a lack of knowledge. People don’t want to say how they are feeling as they’re worried that their managers and colleagues will think less of them, they might lose their job, or be seen as inadequate and incompetent.”

FCC Insight

Much of the stigma surrounding mental ill health has reduced in recent years, and people are often encouraged to seek help by speaking out about their mental health problems. But there is still a long way to go, with many employees continuing to fear that they will be discriminated against if they admit to struggling with mental health. In some cases, sadly, this fear is justified. We’re encouraged to see the Scottish government funding a programme to tackle stigma and discrimination – and it would be good to see that approach replicated elsewhere in the UK.