Stigma and responding to a mental health issue

Last updated: April 19, 2018

Addressing stigma

People with mental health issues, including addictions often experience stigma. Attaching stereotyped and negative qualities to a mental health condition creates stigma. A lack of information, faulty representation, and discriminatory language all promote an unhelpful view of mental health.

People with mental illness or addiction report that judgments by others is a significant barrier to recovery. Stigma can prevent people from asking for help for fear of what others might think or say.

In the workplace, stigma 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 the Canadian Mental Health Association, two out of three individuals with a mental health problem will not pursue treatment. These individuals will suffer longer, which could make the mental health issue worse. Recovery usually takes longer when mental health problems go undiagnosed for an extended period of time.

Supervisors and leaders can reduce stigma with a few key strategies:

  • Learn about mental illness, how it occurs and its impacts
  • Encourage use of the short-term counselling program. Share information programs and services with staff
  • Talk with employees about work disability. Create a culture where recovery from a mental health issue at work is no different than recovering from a physical health issue
  • 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 9-1-1 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 and can consult with the employee and offer help.

For your employee

If you are a manager or supervisor, and notice concerning behaviour, try to intervene early.

At work

If you have an employee struggling with a health issue that affects them at work, access the Managing employee health issues at work program to consult with an Occupational Health Nurse. The Occupational Health Nurse will advise you next steps. Supervisors can contact AskMyHRRestricted Access to access the program. 

The Early Intervention and Return to Work eSeries also has information about managing employees with health issues.

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 absences 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 are ideal when it comes to mental health issues, there will likely be cases where employees will be off work for a period of time. Find more information in the Early Intervention and Return to Work eSeries about what to do when an employee who is off work due to a mental or physical health issue.

Return to work

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