Shocking new poll reveals mental health stigma in the workplace

10 October 2017

40% of Scots fear revealing a mental health problem at work would jeopardise their career. 
 
A new survey of 2,000 workers which was commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation for World Mental Health Day (Tuesday 10th October) has revealed that 40% of Scottish workers wouldn’t talk openly about a mental health problem for fear it would affect their job prospects or job security.

  • 42% said they would be likely to make up an excuse such as stomach ache or back problems for absence if they needed to take time off work for mental health reasons.
  • Worryingly, around one in five workers (19%) said they have seen the label of mental health misused against co-workers.
  • 9% have been victims of abuse at work as a direct result of a mental health issue. 

 The survey also polled 1000 managers and found that almost a quarter said there is no established protocol or procedure to follow if staff have concerns about their mental health.  

  • 59% said their workplace could make improvements to current systems and attitudes to take the mental health of workers more seriously.
  • 65% of managers felt that taking time off due to physical illness or injury is treated more seriously than taking time off to improve mental health.

In response to the findings, the Mental Health Foundation will tomorrow (Tuesday) at SNP Conference in Glasgow publish a guide for employers, including "a check-list", on how to transform our workplaces into mentally friendly environments. It will also highlight that Scotland’s new mental health strategy commits the Scottish Government to working with employers to support the mental wellbeing of their employees.

It is estimated that mental ill health costs Scottish employers over £2 billion each year.

Lee Knifton, Head of Mental Health Foundation Scotland said:

"These are shocking statistics that show too many workplaces are still not safe environments for people to talk openly about a mental health problem. It speaks volumes about attitudes towards mental health if people would rather lie and tell their boss they have a back problem instead.
 
"We are asking people to talk about mental health, but this must be matched with an ability from managers and work colleagues to listen compassionately and act appropriately. Too often line managers simply don’t know what to do or what support is available for someone with a mental health problem – that’s why more support is needed. 
 
"It's in everyone's interests to ensure we have a mentally thriving workforce, particularly employers – given that mental ill health costs them over £2 billion in Scotland every year. 
 
"There is a clear commitment in the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy to improve workplace mental health and we hope that the guide we have published today will help to inform what action must now be taken."
 
Calum Irving, Director of See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health discrimination, said: 
 
"Stigma in workplaces is a major issue and these figures show people do not feel safe or supported to speak about how they are feeling. We all have mental health and it impacts on every aspect of our lives, including where we work, but often if people are struggling with their mental health they aren’t taken seriously and can face discrimination.
 
"As well as the new Mental Health Foundation check-list, our See Me in Work programme engages with 84 employers in Scotland, to change workplace culture, tackle discrimination and show what can make a positive difference to employees. But improving this is everyone’s responsibility. You don’t have to be an expert to speak about mental health, if you see someone going through a tough time, just asking if they are okay can be a powerful thing."
 
The Mental Health Foundation's check-list for employers includes:

  • training opportunities for line managers on how to support staff with mental health problems as well as stress management across the board
  • reasonable adjustments to a person's work pattern to remove barriers and allow them to stay in work
  • mental health embedded in company policies which recognise the mental health needs and wellbeing of staff
  • senior leaders responsible for leading mental health activities, such as mental health awareness sessions, with all managers engaged in the activity
  • regular staff surveys to build data about staff mental health, using findings to plan and deliver action and inform workplace policies
  • staff encouraged to report discrimination or harassment they face and to blow the whistle on discrimination they witness
  • workplaces engaging in the See Me in Work programme.