SUMMARY: 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 can support people to seek help sooner, recover faster and maintain productivity.

The business case for reducing stigma

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

  • Reduced turnover and costs associated with recruitment and training.
  • Attraction of qualified talent that 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 all 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 people to recover and remain productive at work.
Bill Wilkerson, CEO of Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, speaks about stigma at work

Assess the current situation

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

  • Level of understanding about mental health and mental illness.
  • Consider issues of discrimination and diversity.
  • Unsubstantiated fears of violence related to mental illness.
  • Perception that people 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.

Create a plan of action

  • Establish champions – Who is going to lead this initiative within the organization?
  • Estimate staff resources – What will the effort, time and resource 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, consistent and 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 and 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, 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 is important to make sure that the 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 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.

Additional Resources

The following are links to resources that may be of interest to you. If you click on a link you may be entering a third party website not maintained or controlled in any way by us or our affiliated companies. For more information, see Legal and Copyright.

Working Through It™ posters to print and put up in your workplace to raise awareness of workplace mental health issues and provide a resource for employees to access at no cost.

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

Opening Minds Interim Report
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.