Nearly all workers with mental health, substance use disorder face stigma

Even receiving healthcare, 4 in 10 Canadians feel stigmatized: survey

Nearly all workers with mental health, substance use disorder face stigma

Stigma continues to hound those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders, according to a report from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Nearly all (95%) of people with a mental health or substance use disorder indicated that they have been impacted by stigma in the past five years.

"It is important that we highlight to people living with a mental illness or substance use disorder: ‘You are not alone in these experiences,’" says Dr. Heather Stuart, Bell Canada Chair in Mental Health & Anti-Stigma Research and one of the researchers leading this work. "Stigma remains an important and frequently encountered problem. Despite the incredible inroads we've made in our society, more needs to be done including innovative approaches to limiting self-stigma."

Over seven in 10 (72%) people with a mental health or substance use disorder shared feelings of self-stigma, often internalizing negative stereotypes and thinking badly about themselves.

And 40% of people report that in healthcare settings they’d been stigmatized while receiving care, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s survey of over 4,000 people across Canada, including 2,005 who disclosed they were living with a mental health or substance use disorder.

Previously, Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president at LifeWorks, told HRD that people with mental health disorders suffer from workplace stigma, where they feel that their career prospects “would be compromised” if they were to speak out.

Cost of stigma

Because there is a stigma in the workplace around mental health, many employees keep their conditions secret, says Don Mordecai, MD, the Kaiser Permanente national leader for mental health and wellness. This can be costly to employers for the following reasons, he says:

  • Employees with untreated mental health conditions use non-psychiatric health care services three times more than those who do get treatment.
  • 62% of missed workdays can be attributed to mental health conditions.
  • 50% of full-time employees have left a role for mental health reasons and the number is significantly higher for Millennials (68%) and Gen Zers (81%).
  • Mentally distressed workers are 3.5 times more likely to have substance use disorders.

“To help more people get the care they need, it’s essential to understand stigma and take action to overcome it,” says Mordecai. “Employers have an opportunity to address stigma head-on – to make sure employees feel supported, and to help set the tone for a productive and mentally healthy workforce.”

Destigmatizing mental health is good for business, according to a previous report.

Eliminating stigma

Employers should review aspects of the work and workplace to make sure it is not contributing to mental health issues or stigma, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). It says that employers should:

  • Assess existing workplace and workplace culture by reviewing internal data such as complaint reports, absenteeism and turnover rates, and resource usage rates.
  • Evaluate all work processes, procedures, and policies to determine if mental health is included or considered.
  • Make sure measures are in place to prevent harm.
  • Implement a process that encourages self-disclosure or self-identification in a safe manner.
  • Provide education and training programs that will help everyone understand how their actions and words matter.

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