Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health in the Workplace

December 8, 2023

Welcome to the third article in our series, focussing on mental health issues in the drilling industry. The topic we will be highlighting is ‘Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health in the Workplace’.

In recent years, society has made significant strides in acknowledging and addressing mental health issues. However, one area that continues to face challenges is the workplace, where stigma often surrounds discussions about mental health. Breaking this stigma is not just a moral imperative; it’s also a strategic move for companies aiming to build a healthy, productive, and inclusive work environment.

What is ‘stigma’?

Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype). Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common.

Stigma can lead to discrimination. Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment. Or it may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to your mental illness. You may even judge yourself.

The stigma associated with mental health in the workplace stems from deep-rooted misconceptions and societal biases. Employees may fear that revealing mental health struggles could lead to judgment or even jeopardise their careers. This silence perpetuates a culture where mental health is often overlooked or trivialised, hindering the well-being of individuals and the overall productivity of the organisation.

Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:

  • Reluctance of individuals suffering from mental health issues to seek help or treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, employers, co-workers or others
  • Fewer opportunities for progression due to employers’ perceptions of mental health
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment in the workplace
  • The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your own situation

In previous articles, we have mentioned the attitudes and beliefs associated with the Drilling Industry and the environment we work in can create or exacerbate mental health risk. It is vitally important that organisations provide an inclusive working environment and culture that allows its employees to discuss their own mental health issues freely and openly or provide them with the tools to address the matter with their colleagues if they recognise signs and symptoms.

 How do we break the stigma of mental health in the workplace?

There are two different yet interlinked barriers to breaking the stigma of mental health in the workplace: the first is employer stigma towards workers with mental health issues, and the second is internalised stigma amongst workers with mental health issues that prevents them from speaking up. Many people still feel shame around their own mental health issues.

Breaking the stigma of mental health is not easy, however we have provided some guidance below which will aid in lifting the stigma and change attitudes and perceptions to mental health illness:

  1. Include Mental health in your organisational values and strategy

It’s important that overall health and mental health are integrated into all organisational processes and strategies. Make sure that you’re recognising mental health and well-being as part of your company’s health and safety strategy. Clarify what mental health and well-being mean to your organisation so that you’ll have a measurable quality indicator. Companies should ensure they include mental health in their existing policies to create a culture of trust that protects people with mental health issues from negative consequences.

  1. Challenge stigma

Showing someone that there’s no shame or stigma in talking about how they feel could make a huge difference. It can be challenging to know what to do if you are worried about someone. If you suspect there is an issue, it is essential to address your concerns in a timely manner. Waiting and hoping for them to come to you for help might lose valuable time getting them support. Challenging stigma can be as simple as asking someone if they’re sure if they tell you they’re feeling fine. It means providing an open and non-judgemental space, keeping language neutral and asking open questions.

  1. Recognising the impact on the individual

The consequences of the mental health stigma are profound for those dealing with mental health challenges. Employees may feel compelled to hide their struggles, leading to increased stress, anxiety, and a sense of isolation. This can exacerbate mental health conditions and make it more challenging for individuals to seek the support they need. Ultimately, the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace can contribute to a cycle of suffering that affects both the individual and the organisation.

  1. Create a supportive and inclusive culture

Breaking the stigma of mental health begins with cultivating an open and supportive workplace culture. Leaders and managers play a crucial role in setting the tone for the entire organisation. Encouraging open communication about mental health, providing resources for support, and demonstrating empathy can create an environment where employees feel safe discussing their mental health without fear of consequence. For employees to feel like they can disclose their mental health struggles to employers, organisations need to reach out to make a connection and let them know that they are supportive of mental health issues.

  1. Treat mental health like physical health

Most employers are open advocates for improving physical health and discuss methods for doing so in the office. Treating mental health like physical health means outwardly speaking about mental health issues that can arise and offering tools and strategies to prevent and combat them.

  1. Raise education and awareness

One of the most effective ways to combat stigma is through education and awareness. Offering training programs that educate employees about mental health, its prevalence, and the importance of seeking help can demystify the subject. Knowledgeable employees are more likely to be understanding and supportive, contributing to a culture where seeking help is seen as a proactive and positive step.

  1. Show leadership and transparency

Leadership transparency about mental health challenges can be a powerful tool in breaking the stigma. When leaders share their own experiences or express empathy for those dealing with mental health issues, it sends a clear message that seeking help is not a sign of weakness. This transparency helps normalise discussions around mental health and contributes to a workplace culture where employees feel supported in addressing their own challenges. If your leadership team is comfortable doing so, sharing personal experiences with mental health is an impactful way to break down the stigma associated with these conversations.  In addition to sharing experiences, schedule check-ins where you ask specific (yet non-invasive) questions about mental well-being and remind employees of the resources available to them.

  1. Introduce employee assistance programmes

Implementing and promoting Employee Assistance Programmes is a measurable way for organisations to demonstrate their commitment to employee well-being. EAPs provide confidential counselling and support services for employees facing personal or work-related challenges, including mental health issues. By actively promoting these resources, companies demonstrate that they prioritise the mental health of their workforce.

  1. Measure progress

To truly break the stigma, organisations must measure their progress. Regularly assessing the impact of initiatives aimed at promoting mental health and well-being can help identify areas for improvement. Surveys, focus groups, and other feedback mechanisms allow employees to express their experiences and provide valuable insights that can guide ongoing efforts.


Breaking the stigma of mental health in the workplace is a collective responsibility that requires commitment from leaders, managers, and employees alike. By fostering a culture of open communication, providing education and resources, and actively supporting those facing mental health challenges, organisations can create a workplace where well-being is prioritised, and stigma becomes a thing of the past. Ultimately, this not only benefits the individuals directly affected but contributes to a healthier, more resilient, and more productive workforce.

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