How to break the stigma around stress & mental health at work

Breaking stigma around stress

Exploring Stigma around stress in the workplace by Sarah Mayo

  • 1 in 5 people take a day off due to stress. Yet, 90% of these people cited a different reason for their absence.*
  • Less than half of employees say they would feel able to talk openly with their line manager if they were suffering from stress*
  • A quarter of people have considered resigning due to stress*

With many (60%**) who suffer from mental ill health saying the stigma, shame and silence can be as bad as, if not worse than, the symptoms themselves, and with 1 in 6 in the workplace suffering from a common mental health condition in any given week, we all have a role and responsibility to help break the taboo that prevents many from getting help.

And in most cases, the underlying cause of common mental ill health conditions is stress.

April is Stress Awareness Month, so it’s an opportunity to raise awareness in the subject of stress in the workplace and to help bust the stigma that prevents so many from getting help.

Now, we don’t want to demonise stress altogether as we also know that we need the right amount of stress (or pressure) to perform to our best. This will vary from individual to individual and also assumes that we have good coping strategies in place to help flush the stress out of our systems. If we don’t bring conscious awareness to our stress levels and how we manage this stress physiologically-speaking, that’s when it can build and go on to develop into more severe mental ill health.

The Stress Management Society recently collaborated with Huawei AppGallery to conduct a study on stress, gathering data from 2000 British adults. The research identified that unsurprisingly 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. The three key causes for concern cited as feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and a worrying loss of control.

And stigma in its many guises, is one of the main obstacles holding people back from moving from minimum mental wellbeing to maximum mental wellbeing.

So, what are some of the practical ways we can help bust stigma in the workplace?

Simply speaking it’s about helping to create a culture where people feel able to talk openly about how they are feeling without fear of being discriminated against. This requires a baseline of psychological safety and a culture of vulnerability – two of the key ingredients to high performing individuals and teams.

Talking more openly and listening with more empathy will go a long way to help bust stigma in the workplace and help combat mental health discrimination at work.

In our mental health awareness training we do an exercise where we get the delegates to consider one idea that could help “bust mental health stigma” inside their team/organisation. We always get lots of great suggestions, but I would say the most popular are:

  • Senior leaders talking openly about their experiences of mental ill health
  • Making mental health awareness training available to all
  • Regular opportunities/forums to talk openly about mental health

If you are interested in learning more about the subject of stigma, stress and mental ill health in the workplace, you can listen to our Walk The Talk webcast (listen/watch here) where I talk to Dan Strachan, Crisis Recovery Service Coordinator at Richmond Borough Mind about his personal struggles with mental ill health and ways to help break down the stigma that surrounds stress and mental ill health in the workplace, including how to spot the signs and support someone who may be struggling. 

Dan talks eloquently about his own story and shares some of the real issues of stigma and mental ill health in the workplace along with simple ways we as individuals and organisations can help break the taboo that prevents so many people from going on to get the help that is available to them.

If you feel this is an area that you need support with as a business, we have a practical mental health awareness training session that gives delegates the following:

  • An understanding of what mental health is.
  • An opportunity to explore + discuss stigma surrounding mental health.
  • A basic knowledge of some common mental health conditions that you may come across within the workplace (and beyond).
  • Greater awareness of their own mental wellbeing and tools to support optimal wellbeing.
  • Confidence and practical tools to offer support to others who may be experiencing a mental illness.
  • During this current time, we will also be shining a spotlight of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and ways to spot and support mental ill health whilst working remotely.

If you’re interested in how we can support the mental health at work and the wellbeing of your people, then we’d love to speak to you!

You can call us on 0208 0773130 or drop us a note through the form here or via email at

Statistics from: *time to change charity **Institute of Psychiatry