Stigma reduction plan

How to identify and address potential discrimination and promote inclusivity. Engage your workforce to support psychological safety for all.

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Stigma can be one of the greatest barriers to psychological health and safety in the workplace, especially for employees with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Eliminating stigma while increasing mental health awareness and inclusion can support employees to seek help sooner, recover faster and maintain productivity. 

While this approach primarily refers to mental health, stigma can be related to any number of issues, such as age, gender, race, language etc. Your plan should address any factors that arise in your assessment of the current state in your workplace. Many resources can help you with this, including Guarding Minds at Work, Psychologically safe team, Discrimination prevention and inclusion and Inclusions strategies for leaders.

The business case for reducing stigma

By fostering an attitude of support for employees who are struggling with mental health concerns, workplaces can benefit in the following ways:

  • Reduced turnover and costs associated with recruitment and training.
  • Attraction of qualified, talented people who prefer a workplace that supports mental health.
  • Reduced sick leave as employees are supported to remain productive at work.
  • Avoidance of violations related to human rights.
  • Corporate and social responsibility in providing a workplace that is supportive of all employees.
  • Enhanced customer service when employees are healthier and happier at work.
  • Improved performance by supporting employees to contribute their best work.

Employees may be afraid to reach out for help, yet the majority of mental illnesses can be treated, allowing employees to recover and remain productive at work.

Assess the current situation

A survey or other method of assessment of stigma in the workplace should look at:

  • The level of understanding employees have about mental health and mental illness.
  • Experiences of both discrimination and diversity. Examples can be found under Discrimination prevention and inclusivity.
  • Unsubstantiated fears of violence related to mental illness.
  • Perception that employees with mental health issues cannot function or perform their duties.
  • Fear or shame that may prevent someone from seeking assistance.
  • Rates of promotion or career advancement for employees who have mental health issues, as compared to employees of similar qualifications.
  • Management's usual response to an employee who has mental health issues.
  • Potential legal concerns like discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, trauma, burnout and other negative impacts to employee health and well-being.

Create a plan of action

  • Identify champions – Who is going to lead this initiative within the organization?
  • Estimate resources – What will the staff effort and time commitment be for each activity?
  • Include a timeline and budget – The more directly the workplace addresses key areas of concern, the better the return on investment can be.
    • Create a timeline for all activities.
    • Set milestones to celebrate results.
    • Estimate the cost for each activity including training, special events and promotional and support materials.
  • Identify key issues
  • Set goals – Include measures for success.
  • Develop key messages – These should resonate with employees, be clear and consistent, support goals. Language should always be respectful.
  • Draw on others’ expertise – Find out about local chapters of organizations to assist employees with mental health concerns. Some examples include the Canadian Mental Health Association, Mindful Employer Canada, Mood Disorders Society of Canada, Schizophrenia Society of Canada and Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments.

Implement and communicate the plan

  • Engage employees – Share goals, benefits and details of how staff can become involved as well as how results will be measured.
  • Build momentum – Post awareness materials as well as listings of staff training opportunities and events in high visibility locations (coffee rooms, staff intranet, etc.).
  • Communicate often – Include key messages throughout all staff communications.
  • Recognize achievements – Follow through on plans to recognize accomplishments and progress.

Evaluate the plan

It's important to make sure that plan is effective and efficient, and that it remains flexible enough to accommodate changes or improvements.

  • Take stock – Review accomplishments and progress.
  • Respond – Address challenges and celebrate achievements.
  • Reassess – Repeat the original survey to assess change and progress.
  • Modify – Analyze new survey results and modify strategies as required.

Maintain the plan

Plan maintenance should include a focus on long-term outcomes. These efforts should:

  • Be clear and consistent about the organization's position on stigma reduction.
  • Validate staff efforts by sharing the results (e.g. posters, intranet, etc.).
  • Be flexible and responsive to changes that affect the workplace.
  • Include training and support for leaders to continue the effort.
  • Assign champions to keep the initiative alive.

Adapted from Developing a Stigma Reduction Initiative courtesy | PDF of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA Pub. No. SMA-4176. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006.

Stigma statistics

  • 47% of employed Canadians say that if they admitted they were suffering from a mental illness to a boss or co-worker, they feel their ability to do their job would be questioned1
  • When asked why they would be reluctant to admit struggling with a mental illness, some of the top reasons included fear of being treated differently (45%), not wanting to be judged (44%) or considered weak (33%), along with a desire for privacy (50%).2
  • In 2020, although 51% considered mental health issues broadly to be a disability, working Canadians were actually significantly less likely to consider depression, specifically, as a disability than the year previous (47%)3

Workshop materials

Implicit bias workshop

A self-reflection workshop that explores the attitudes and stereotypes that affect our actions, decisions and unconscious understanding towards or against a particular person or people group.

Additional resources

The following are links to resources that may be of interest to you.

Implicit bias. Learn to identify and understand implicit bias, microaggressions and intersectionality. Whether the bias results in poor morale or discrimination, identifying it is the first step to eliminating it.

Indigenous teachings for leaders. In addition to insights and strategies from Indigenous leaders and managers, elders and colleagues explain how the Seven Sacred Teachings and the Medicine Wheel can benefit workplace culture and employees at all levels. These teachings can be used to encourage employee confidence, engagement and well-being in any workplace.

Impairment and addiction response for leaders. Information to help identify the signs of impairment and respond effectively. These strategies can also help accommodate an employee’s return to work after treatment.

Together Against Stigma | PDF. From the 5th International Stigma Conference, Ottawa, 2012.  Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Opening Minds Interim Report | PDF. This report is the result of the largest systematic effort to reduce the stigma of mental illness in Canadian history from the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) anti-stigma initiative, Opening Minds. Information courtesy of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.


  1. Public Opinion. (2020). Working Canadians are more willing to admit to struggling with … Ipsos. Ipsos. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from
  2. Moyser, M., & Hango, D. (2018). Insights on Canadian Society: Harassment in Canadian workplaces. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from
  3. Focus on Discrimination. (2018). Government of Canada. Retrieved from
Contributors include.articlesBill WilkersonMary Ann BayntonSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

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