Surviving Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace

Mental illness is one of the most common maladies to affect American workers, with 1 in 5 individuals experiencing conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, or panic attacks. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean employers and colleagues understand what it means to have a mental health illness.

Stigma remains one of the most troubling limitations for workers managing one or more of these illnesses. Those disclosing their conditions often experience subtle or overt discrimination, termination, or difficulty obtaining employment. Those who don’t, however, risk not getting the support they need to manage their illnesses.

How Does Mental Health Stigma Negatively Impact Workers?


Those seeking mental health treatment already face challenges many of their peers may not understand. In addition to the difficulties of mental illness, those working – or seeking to work – must wrestle with the question of whether or not to tell supervisors or colleagues about their conditions.

Whether an individual is open about a mental illness or an employer simply suspects it, the consequences can include:

  • Higher unemployment. Of all individuals with classified disabilities, those with mental illnesses experience the highest unemployment rates.
  • Trouble obtaining employment. Fifty percent of American employers admitted they would hesitate to hire a candidate with past psychiatric issues or who was currently receiving treatment for depression.
  • Difficulty obtaining time off. Individuals needing to use sick time to attend mental health treatment may suffer penalties or lose their jobs due to the hours they miss.
  • Lack of advancement. Employers may choose not to select an individual for promotions if they believe a mental illness could interfere with their productivity or leadership.
  • Strained relationships. Supervisors and peers may make unfair judgments about a coworker with a mental illness, causing them to treat that individual differently.

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How to Advocate for Yourself in the Workplace


As a person with a mental health condition, it is important to understand how to act in your best interest when working and seeking work. Ways to overcome workplace stigma include:

1. Know your rights. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers may not discriminate against candidates or employees with regards to hiring or workplace decisions. They also must provide “reasonable accommodations” to help employees with disabilities – including mental health illness – perform their jobs successfully.

2. Use caution when disclosing your condition. Informing your employer you are receiving mental health treatment is an important way to help reduce stigma and access the resources you need. However, it is usually best not to disclose this information until after you have been hired. Otherwise, an employer may choose a candidate who seems “safer” to them.

3. Advocate for yourself. Don’t let mental health stigma stop you from getting the help you need, both in the workplace and out. If you believe your rights have been violated, contact the Department of Justice or a civil rights attorney to discuss your legal options.

At Bridges to Recovery, we can’t go to work with you, but we can work with you to help you advocate for yourself in the workplace and beyond. We understand your mental health condition does not define you, and our goal is to help you achieve optimal health and success.

To begin your path towards achieving better mental health, contact us today.