May 9, 2024 / Steven Lacey

The Next Step for Improving Mental Health through the Workplace: Eliminating Stigma

Image Credit: Getty Images / BlackSalmon

Public health and medical authorities, including CDC and the American Psychological Association, have concluded that America faces a mental health crisis. Employers have responded by accelerating the development of mental health programs at workplaces. According to a survey conducted in February 2022, more than a fifth of workers said that their employer introduced new mental health benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. These programs help ensure that mental health issues have greater visibility now than they've ever had before.

But this modest progress is at risk if we don't take the next step and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues. If people are too ashamed or afraid to talk about their mental health, they won't get the help they need. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada's largest mental health teaching hospital, estimates that stigma prevents 40 percent of people with anxiety or depression from seeking medical help. And stigma threatens to undo the work undertaken by many employers to offer improved mental health services: according to Lyra Health, a provider of mental health services, “these benefits are likely to be underutilized if no one comes forward."

Eliminating stigma is a simple matter in the sense that you don't have to be a medical professional to contribute. You don't need clinical training to help make it okay for people to talk about mental health.

The work environment is a good place to start putting in place the kinds of changes needed, but work colleagues can unthinkingly and casually reinforce stigma through their words and actions. As CAMH has noted, we can all help end stigma by performing simple acts of kindness and by treating people with dignity. Lyra Health offers the following suggestions on how employers can reduce stigma in the workplace:

  1. Start the conversation—and keep it going. Talking about mental health issues can be difficult at first, so workers need to know that the topic is important to employers.
  2. Choose your words wisely. Seemingly innocuous offhand statements like "She's being crazy today" can contribute to stigma.
  3. Provide mental health literacy training. Employees should learn how to spot the signs of psychological distress in themselves and in others.
  4. Eliminate mental health discrimination. Make sure your workplace is a supportive, inclusive environment.
  5. Launch mental health awareness campaigns. One example is creating a team of "mental health ambassadors."
  6. Invest in programs that support mental health. These actions show employees that your workplace is compassionate and supportive.

The Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) at the University of Utah has launched a national campaign to end the stigma associated with mental health issues. HMHI has put into place a five-year strategic plan to eliminate stigma that focuses on developing partnerships with organizations across the country. Information on how your workplace can participate is available from Stop Stigma Together.

Related: Read "Mental Health: Ending the Stigma."


American Psychological Association: "Stress in America 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis" (October 2020).

CDC: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "Symptoms of Anxiety or Depressive Disorder and Use of Mental Health Care Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic—United States, August 2020–February 2021" (April 2021).

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: "Addressing Stigma."

Fortune: "23% of Workers Say Employers Are Offering New Mental Health Benefits. But Is It Enough?" (April 2022).

Lyra Health: "Mental Health Stigma and How to Overcome It."

Steven Lacey

Steven E. Lacey, PhD, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, is a professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Utah School of Medicine and a Fellow and past president of AIHA.


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