“60% of people with a mental health problem or illness won’t seek help for fear of being labeled.”
- Mental Health Commission of Canada, retrieved 2014
What is stigma?
Stigma is the negative stereotype that leads some people to think of others as unacceptably different based on their identity and certain characteristics they possess, and to treat them in negative, disrespectful, limiting and harmful ways.
The publication of a 2006 Senate Committee report Out of the Shadows at Last highlighted the need to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health disorders. A Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), Opening Minds project launched in 2009 and focused on reducing stigma related to mental illness.
Living with mental health disorders
For people living with mental health disorders, the experience of stigma and discrimination can be one of the greatest barriers to being able to lead a full and satisfying life.
Evidence shows that the stigma associated with mental disorders can have devastating personal and social consequences.
- Loss of self-esteem, feelings of being devalued.
- Difficulties making friends and having long-term relationships.
- Problems obtaining employment and finding housing.
- Problems participating in social activities.
- Delays in seeking treatment and receiving appropriate medical care.
- Financial stress and economic hardship.
- Life expectancy as a result of these multiple stressors.
Stigma in the workplace
“A healthy work organization is defined as one whose culture, climate and organizational practices create an environment which promotes employee mental and physical health, as well as productivity and organizational effectiveness.” (Murphy, 1999)
Employers and leaders must be mindful of how their organizational practices and workplace culture affects their employees.
- Normalize mental health by speaking openly about stress, work-life balance and other issues.
- Raise awareness about mental health by observing the Canadian Mental Health Association's Mental Health Week.
- Help leaders recognize and manage mental health.
An employee’s recovery from a mental illness can be supported by maintaining a connection to work and peers. Workplace accommodations such as reducing the pace of work, flexible hours or adjusted job functions will go a long way to contribute to a sustainable recovery.
Employees need to know they can approach their manager or employer without the fear of workplace repercussions.
- Start educating to help reduce stigma - created as part of Manulife’s What’s on your mind?® series with Dr. Thomas Ungar, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and Chief of Psychiatry at North York General.
- Lim, S.Y. and L. R. Murphy. 1999. “The Relationship of Organizational Factors to Employee Health and Overall Effectiveness.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine Supplement May: 64-5.
What you can do?
- Educate yourself and others to challenge negative stereotypes about mental health.
- Be aware of your own behavior and attitudes towards mental illness.
- Use accurate and sensitive words in communications with – and about - people.
- Support those living with mental illness by respecting their dignity and demonstrating respect.
- Be inclusive. It is against the law in Canada for employers and service providers to discriminate against people with mental health and substance use disorders. When people are denied access to things such as jobs, housing and health care, this violates their human rights (Ontario Human Rights Commission).
Support and education
Visit these tools and websites for more information:
- Youth, teens and mental health (PDF)
- Reducing Mental Health Stigma, Manulife (PDF)
- Canadian Psychiatric Association: Stigma and Discrimination
- Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario
- Mental Health Commission of Canada, Opening Minds
- Mental Health Commission of Canada, Out of the Shadows Forever (PDF)
- Parliament of Canada, 2006 Senate Committee Report: Out of the Shadows at Last
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
- Advances in Psychiatric Treatment: Stigma of mental illness and ways of diminishing it
- Mood Disorders Society of Canada
- Mental Health Commission of Canada, Workplace
- The Conference Board of Canada, Mental Health Stigma Still Pervades Canadian Workplace (News release, June 20, 2011)
- Not myself today