Tackling Workplace Mental Health Stigma: 6 Strategies that Actually Work

Nov 2, 2021

By The Lyra Content Team

Historically, showing emotion at work was seen as highly unprofessional, effectively undermining an employee’s professional abilities. Thankfully, this misconception has begun to erode–after all, employees aren’t robots. Think of all of the times you’ve seen this scene depicted in popular media: Someone at work quickly rushes out of a stressful meeting, secludes themselves in a bathroom stall, and cries. You may have even witnessed this in your own workplace.

Beyond everyday emotions, one in five adults experience a mental health disorder each year, and most are employed. Stigma surrounding mental illness at work prevents eight out of ten of these workers from reaching out for support. Employees are human beings who may be experiencing stress, anxiety, irritability,  sadness, or any number of emotions–as an employer, it’s important to make sure your team members feel supported and valued in times of need. 

Mental health stigma is a workplace issue 

Mental health stigma is not just an individual challenge. Employees’ suffering significantly affects their employers, too, with untreated mental illness costing companies billions of dollars every year in lost productivity.

To illustrate:

  • Nearly two-thirds of adults cite work as a significant source of stress.
  • Only 36% of employees say their organization provides adequate resources to manage that stress.
  • Untreated mental illness costs companies $193 billion annually in lost productivity.

Employers can play an important role in destigmatizing mental illness and nurturing a positive work environment. While a growing number of businesses offer support for employees with behavioral health conditions, it’s also essential to create work cultures where people feel comfortable discussing their mental health needs. What follows are some actionable steps people leaders can take to destigmatize mental health at work so employees feel empowered to get the help they need.

6 ways to reduce stigma in the workplace

1. Model mental health at work 

Stop keeping your mid-day walks a secret. The best way to show employees that their health and well-being is important is to lead by example. Take the paid time off (PTO) that’s offered to you, and consider sharing when you take time off to attend therapy, or do something self-care related, such as disconnecting from technology, or spending time with family and friends.

2. Talk openly about mental health

Feeling anxious? Having a hard day? It’s OK to share that. When managers and company leaders talk openly about their mental health, it sends a message to employees that they are welcome to discuss their own challenges at work. In fact, research shows that this type of authentic leadership builds trust and improves employee performance.

3. Create an inclusive, supportive environment so everyone feels comfortable asking for help

Discussing mental health benefits in company-wide emails or during all-hands meetings is an effective way to communicate that seeking mental health care isn’t a luxury or sign of weakness. Mentorship programs, dedicated Slack channels, employee resource groups (ERGs), or even grassroots-supported community spaces can all help cultivate psychological safety and inclusivity at work. 

4. Use person-centered language when talking about mental health issues

Steer clear of inappropriate or insensitive remarks about mental illness. Words matter, and referring to someone as “crazy” or minimizing someone’s humanity to a label such as “addict” only reinforces mental health stigma. Replace this language with person-centered language, such as, “a person with a substance abuse disorder.” 

5. Launch mental health awareness campaigns

While employers can’t treat mental health issues like depression and anxiety, they do have the power to break down barriers to treatment. Create ongoing mental health awareness campaigns, or offer trainings and workshops that educate employees about mental illness and encourage them to seek help.

6. Ensure employees have easily accessible, comprehensive mental health care 

Mental health is often treated as a secondary benefit offering that is deprioritized over physical health plans. However, surveys show employees want parity between the mental health physical health benefits  their employers offer. Offering a truly comprehensive benefit that makes it easy for employees to quickly access evidence-based care demonstrates that your company isn’t just making a symbolic gesture of support, but that you’ve invested in making a tangible difference in employees’ health and well-being.

Interested in learning more about how a comprehensive mental health benefit can help you create a stigma-free workplace? Download our guide or schedule a demo now.


If you’d like help connecting with a therapist or mental health coach, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.

If you’re a mental health professional and want to explore joining the Lyra network, learn more about how we work with providers and apply today.

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The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.