The Mental Health Stigma

Posted in : HR Updates on 8 March 2017
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

After reading a recent Legal-Island Weekly Review of Developments (24/2/2017) on how 'mental health is a no go issue' it got me thinking about the subject and how equipped employers are to deal with mental health issues in the workplace.

The weekly update described how a survey carried out by Legal and General found that 40 percent of employees had experienced depression, while 22 percent were dealing with anger and 25 per cent with unacceptably high levels of pressure. The economic and social cost of mental illness in the UK has been calculated at £105bn, similar to the NHS's entire annual budget according to an article by City A.M. A further report by the Institute for Employment Studies 'Mental health at Work' warns how mental health problems can have  consequences for business as well as individuals through effects on absence and productivity. The report reminds employers of their legal obligation to protect workers, and treat workers and job applicants fairly. 

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Theresa May called for employers to do more about mental health, stating that employee wellbeing drives productivity. The ‘Mental Health at Work' report highlights that at present, only a minority of organisations are doing anything to tackle the problem, and there remains a lot of stigma and lack of awareness around the issues.

But is it enough for employers to provide a myriad of health & wellbeing initiatives in the workplace or should we be going further to support employees with mental health problems? In other words, surely prevention is better than a cure? The Prime Minister backs this up by warning that prevention of mental health problems and breaking of stigmas should be "top priorities" for employers.

The 'Mental health at Work' report recommends a number of interventions have been found to be useful within workplaces. They have listed these as follows:

  • Problem-solving skills, exercise and relaxation to help people tackle stressful situations (but not necessary prevent mental health problems).
  • Personal support, social skills and coping training for those at risk of developing mental health problems.
  • Early cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (up to eight weeks) for those experiencing mental health problems.
  • Effective rehabilitation facilitated by case management that brings together line managers, occupational health professionals and GPs, and early, but respectful, contact with the employee from line management.

The report urges managers to take a holistic approach to tackling mental health problems, such as placing employees into roles that suit their skills and competencies and ensuring there are returned to work policies and procedures in place. It recommends that cultures are open to allow employees to feel able to talk about mental health problems without fear of repercussion.


Research indicates that exposure to prolonged work‐related stress can increase the risk of mental health problems.

The HSE recently created a set of ‘Management Standards’ to help organisations tackle stress in the workplace. The standards are designed to demonstrate good practice through a step-by-step risk assessment approach and ensure that the work environment does not exacerbate or cause mental health problems.

Useful support

The Institute for Employment Studies can provide advice on the communication skills and techniques which can help employers navigate potentially difficult conversations around this issue of mental health (

The UK Mental Health Foundation urges employers to make a case for tackling mental health in the workplace. They suggest choosing an appropriate time to raise the issue at board level such as the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week in May and World Mental Health Day in October. However, they do recommend not to hold out on these dates as there may be other opportunities to discuss the issue.

The Foundation has produced a module that looks at how to encourage good mental health. It recommends starting with managers and proving them with training and support to help them recognise the early signs of a mental health problem and put strategies in place to help them support staff.

The module looks at how to encourage good mental health – by ‘safeguarding staff wellbeing, addressing problems before they become severe, and supporting staff when issues do emerge.  The module stresses how it ‘is not about becoming an expert in mental health; it’s about spotting the signs that something might be wrong. It will signpost the right support and resources, and offer suggestions for putting strategies in place to support good mental health. All this will help empower managers to do the same'. Check it out here.

Finally Mental health first aid (MHFA) is the mental health equivalent of a physical first-aid course, and MHFA England is leading the way in increasing the number of mental health first aiders. You’ll find more information on their website at

It’s a no-brainer

When we weigh up increased absence, staff turnover and reduced productivity against a healthier, more engaged workforce, the benefits of tackling mental health issues would appear to be a no-brainer. With good prevention measures and health and wellbeing initiatives in place this will also have a beneficial impact on the organisation, and could improve employer branding.

How stressed are you?

Why not take a stress test? Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke provide an online stress test which may generate some interesting results. Let’s hope you pass!

This article is correct at 08/03/2017

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Olga Pollock
firmus energy

The main content of this article was provided by Olga Pollock. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)79 7389 3448 or email

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