Mental health a workplace taboo

Many bosses and employees are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression and other forms of mental ill health, a fact that is overlooked by too many business owners, says mental health charity the Shaw Trust.

In addition, the research uncovers widespread discrimination, prejudice and a lack of understanding in the workplace against employees who have taken time off work because of a mental health condition and an absence of effective policies or provision to manage their employees’ mental health.

’Mental health is probably the last workplace taboo,’ says Tim Cooper, managing director of the Shaw Trust. ‘Society has confronted discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, sexual orientation and religion, but there is a worrying lack of understanding about mental health and it is not often openly discussed. There is still workplace discrimination towards people who have suffered mental ill health, although it may not be deliberate or conscious. It wastes ability, talent and skills and spoils lives.’

A breakdown of the Shaw Trust research summary findings:

  • Company directors underestimate the likely incidence of mental ill health amongst employees and colleagues, or the implications for their business.
  • One in three directors could not mention any specific condition, such as stress, depression or anxiety, when asked what disorders they thought of in connection with mental health in the workplace.
  • One in five employers admits to believing that employees who have been off work with stress, depression or some form of mental ill health for more than a few weeks are unlikely ever to recover. One in three thinks they are less reliable.
  • A similar number say that negative attitudes from co-workers are a major barrier to employing people with any form of mental health problems.
  • Around half think that organisations take significant risks when employing them, or keeping them, in public or client facing roles.
  • There was no significant difference in responses between small businesses and large employers.
  • Around three in every ten employees (28-35 per cent) will experience stress, depression or some other form of mental ill health in any year (MIND, ‘Stress and Mental Health in the Workplace’). Yet only around one in six employers (17 per cent) recognise this national average is likely to apply to their people.
  • Only about three per cent of all directors think their company has a policy that is effective to deal with stress and mental ill health in the workplace.
  • Eight in ten employees say their company has no policy at all.
  • Seven in ten employees admit to not knowing enough about their legal position and obligations relating to mental health.

For more information on the Shaw Trust visit

See also: The signs of poor mental health at work

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Mental health