Latest scorecard: Mental health stigma @ work

Stop Stigma

Two weeks ago I was speaking to an impressive Human Resources Manager before I was about to speak about the why mental resilience should be on every CEO’s agenda. I shared with her that I had recently asked 520 people questions about mental health stigma in workplaces.

I explained that my finding showed that people in mental distress were reluctant to admit it to their manager or colleagues. She shared with me that even though she struggled at times with anxiety, she would be reluctant to reveal this to her manager. She said that she feared being negatively judged or pigeonholed. She quietly said, “It’s just too risky”.

I believe this is profoundly wrong for both the employee and the employer when you consider the ABS estimates that 45% of us will struggle with a mental illness in our lifetime. There is also clear evidence that this is high priority for all employees.

In recent research undertaken by beyondblue 91% of Australian employees believe mental health in the workplace is important, but only 52% believe their workplace is mentally healthy. Only five in ten (56%) believe their most senior leaders value mental health.

In a just-released Superfriend research of 5000 employees, 46% believe mental health and wellbeing is a big problem in their business. Of these, only 20% believe it is being addressed, with 50% believing it is not a high priority. In that same report 1 IN 3 believe that stigma prevents employers taking action to promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. We must address this.

In September 2017 I invited people to answer squestions about the stigma and stress in their workplace. Overall 520 employees responded – full time (59%), self-employed (14%), part-time (14%) from a mix of small, medium, and large employers. I was also interested to see if there was a different perspective between those who have experienced a mental health challenge at work (71% of those surveyed) and those who hadn’t 29%.


Overall, only 57% of employees agreed that their stress at work is manageable.  With unmanageable stress a contributor to depression and anxiety this level remains unacceptably high.

The study also revealed that mental health stigma is greater in larger companies, and its impact is perceived more significant by those who have had a mental health challenge at work versus those that haven’t.


Let’s look at this in general and the difference between large and small companies.

In larger organisations (100+ employees) only 41% believe employees with a mental health challenge are regarded negatively compared to 60% for smaller companies.

Only 43 % of those who have had a mental health challenge at work believe they would not be judged negatively, compared to 59% who haven’t.


At the heart of any issue regarding mental distress is how comfortable we would feel discussing it with our manager if it was affecting our work.

Overall 48% would feel comfortable discussing their challenge to a manager, with 51% of employees at smaller employers comfortable, compared to 46% for larger employers.

Is there any difference in attitude between the perception of those who have actually had a mental health challenge at work and those who haven’t?

Only 45% of those who have had a mental health challenge at work would feel comfortable discussing it with their manager, compared to 56% who haven’t.


How is the culture of large organisations compared to small?

Once again it appears that smaller (less than 100 employees) have a more supportive environment, with 59% compared to 51% for larger organisations.

Is there a difference in perception between those who have had a mental health challenge at work?

Once again there is a large distinction between the perceptions of those who have experienced mental illness directly (41% agree) versus those who haven’t (63%).


There is no doubt that a mentally healthy culture is highly valued by employees, and yet one of the biggest inhibitors is that people don’t feel comfortable discussing why it is important. This is despite all of us knowing someone close to us that struggles with mental distress. It also appears that larger companies (who ironically have access to more resources) have a greater level of stigma. When we know that mental distress is the largest contributor to lost productivity – Houston we have a problem.


If you are an organisation that would like to do something to improve this situation:

  • Consider having me present to your leadership team about why mental distress can no longer be ignored.
  • If you are on the leadership team or a manager, share a story about how you have been touched personally by mental distress. Share some of the facts above and explain why you feel your organisation should make mental resilience a priority. Tie it into your vision and values so your colleagues can see that this isn’t something “extra”.
  • Consider asking questions similar to those above in your next engagement survey.
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