Thought Leadership

Creating a Stigma Free Work Environment

Stigma Free Workplace example shown by coworkers making fun of fellow employee

October 11, 2019 | Joel L. Axler, M.D. - Strategic Benefit Advisors' National Behavior Health Leader | In The Media

Most people who live with mental illness have at some point in their lives been blamed for their conditions. They’ve been called names. Their symptoms have been referred to as “a phase” or something they can control “if they only tried.” They may feel that they have been discriminated against in the work environment. This is the unwieldy power that stigma holds. Stigma causes people to feel ashamed and creates negative perceptions as well as low self-esteem. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that eight out of 10 people suffering from mental illness report feelings of shame; more than one third express concerns about job security. A recent survey by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) identifies stigma as the number one mental health concern that employers aim to address in 2020 with almost half of respondents planning de-stigmatization campaigns and manager training focused on increasing awareness of available resources and benefits as well as suicide prevention programs.

The Impact of Untreated Mental Illness on Workforce Health and Productivity

Mental illness has a significant impact on the health and well-being of US workers and their families. One in five adults in the United States experience some type of mental illness. For 70% of adults with mental illness, their conditions go untreated, and only 22% receive adequate care. Inadequate treatment also impacts the employer bottom line, manifested in absenteeism, poor performance, low morale, and additional healthcare costs. Recent studies show that 62% of missed workdays are attributable to mental health conditions.

Ways Employers Can Help Create a Stigma-free Environment

  • De-stigma/awareness campaign: Talk openly about mental illness, share employee testimonials, and demonstrate support from senior leadership. Consider re-naming mental health campaigns to be less stigmatized.
  • Promote resources: Highlight Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and the equality of physical and mental illness benefits. Develop mental health resource toolkits for managers.
  • Host information sessions on some of life’s toughest challenges: Invite local behavioral health professionals to explore issues like dealing with adolescents or coping with an aging parent. These types of meetings can build trust and demonstrate that the organization cares and has credible resources not only for families but employees, too.
  • Explore virtual behavioral solutions: Some employees are more comfortable talking about their feelings in the confines of their home where they do not have to be face-to-face with a professional. Offering tele-behavioral health solutions to your employees may make them more likely to seek treatment.
  • Train managers: Conduct mental health first aid programs to train managers to know the signs of mental illness and how to direct employees to get help.
  • Create a quiet space for meditation/relaxation: By designating a physical space in your workplace to promote mental health, you are sending the message that your organization truly supports taking the time for self-care.

Simple changes to the way your organization talks about mental health can have a meaningful impact on your organization’s culture and the mental health of your employees and their families. For more information, please contact Strategic Benefit Advisors. Stigma-free tools and resources are also available from the National Alliance on Mental Illness at


Joel L. Axler, M.D.
National Behavior Health Leader
Strategic Benefit Advisors (SBA)/Brown & Brown
Dr. Axler is a board-certified Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist. He has a wealth of experience addressing mental health and substance abuse issues that face employer groups and has a passion for helping employers develop innovative solutions to improve behavioral health access and quality of care. Dr. Axler has experience building effective integrated physical-mental health care solutions and developing and deploying innovative strategies to enhance member engagement and motivation to improve adherence with treatment, leading to better quality of life for employees and their families.

This content is strictly informational and should not be used as specific advice on insurance products, legal, accounting and/or tax related matters. Insureds should always contact the appropriate licensed professional for their insurance, legal, accounting or tax needs.

  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness:
  2. Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey: National Business Group on Health (2020)
  3. National Business Group on Health:
  4. National Institute of Mental Health (2017):
  5. UNUM: