Stigma & Responding to a Mental Health Issue

Addressing Stigma

People don't always like talking about mental health issues, either their own or others. We create stigma around mental health when we attach stereotyped and negative qualities to a condition involving anyone's mental health. Apart from creating negative impacts, stigma can be a barrier to effective treatment.

Individuals with mental health problems or addictions often experience stigma. We promote an unenlightened view of mental health through a lack of information, faulty representations and discriminatory language.

People with mental illness or addiction report that judgments by others are one of their greatest barriers to recovery. Stigma can prevent people from asking for help for fear of what others might think or say. In the workplace, stigma also makes it difficult for managers or co-workers to offer assistance out of fear of saying the wrong thing or infringing on an employee's privacy.

According to recent statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association, two out of three individuals with a mental health problem will not pursue treatment. This means that these individuals will suffer for longer and could make the mental health issue worse with time. Recovery usually takes longer when mental health problems go undiagnosed for an extended period of time.

Supervisors and leaders can reduce the negative impact of stigma with a few key strategies:

  • Learn about mental illness, how it occurs and its impacts
  • Encourage use of the short-term counselling program and share information about programs and services with staff
  • Talk with employees about work disability and create a culture where recovery at work is no different than supporting an employee recovering from major surgery
  • If an employee is absent on a work disability, ask them what parts of their job they could do to keep them connected to the workplace while they recover
  • Establish a collaborative relationship and tone with an employee who appears to be struggling

Responding to a Mental Health Issue

For yourself

If you're experiencing a mental health issue, it's easy to feel alone and overwhelmed. Here are some resources and appropriate next steps:

  • Ask for help from trusted friends or family
  • If possible, talk to your supervisor and explain what is going on
  • Access some of the free and confidential health and well-being programs available to you, including short-term counselling
  • Talk to your doctor

If you feel you are at imminent risk or feel suicidal, call 911 or have someone help you do so.

For a colleague

If you suspect a colleague is dealing with a mental health issue, talk to your supervisor first. Your supervisor has a range of tools available to consult with the employee in question and to offer help.

For your employee

If you are a manager or supervisor, part of your responsibility is to keep an eye on your employees and notice if something changes. If you do notice concerning behaviour, try to intervene early.

At work

If you have an employee struggling with a health issue that impacts them at work, access the Managing Employee Health Issues at Work program to consult with an Occupational Health Nurse. The Occupational Health Nurse with provide advice and let you know what to expect for next steps. Supervisors can contact AskMyHR to access the program. 

The Early Intervention and Return to Work e-Learning Series also has information about managing employees with health issues at work.

When helping employees who may be struggling with mental health issues, keep in mind that work is important. Research shows that extended disability leave can actually increase mental health problems because long stretches of absence tend to isolate individuals, increase feelings of worthlessness and make it more difficult to return to work. Work provides routine, social contact, activity and a sense of identity.

Off work

While prevention and early intervention is the ideal when it comes to mental health issues, there will likely be cases where employees will be off work for some time period. Find more information in the Early Intervention and Return to Work e-Learning Series about the roles and responsibilities that come with an employee who is off work due to a mental or physical health issue. Supervisors and managers can find supports, particularly if the situation is quite complex or expected to be an extended leave.

Return to work

If your employee is ready to come back to work after being away for some time, you have some planning to do. Talk to the employee about their return-to-work plan, including possible work accommodations, such as modified duties or schedules, where possible.