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Workplace mental health stigma persists

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A growing number of employers have observed a persistent if not worsening workplace stigma associated with mental and behavioral health issues, according to a recent study by the Disability Management Employer Coalition.

More than 24% of employers polled in July and August of 2014 said they believe workplace stigma surrounding diagnosed psychological or psychiatric disorders has increased, compared with just 7% of employers polled in 2012, according to findings released last week from the San Diego-based DMEC's “2014 Behavioral Risk Survey.”

Additionally, between 20% and 25% of employers polled said they perceived a rise in workplace stigma in 2014 surrounding the treatment of mental and behavioral health conditions — including consultations with mental health professionals, use of mental health-related prescriptions and utilization of employee assistance programs — compared with just 3% in 2012.

“In spite of all of the tools, resources and information available to employers about mental illness and behavioral health, stigma in the workplace is at higher levels than it's ever been,” Terri Rhodes, DMEC's executive director in San Francisco, said. “That was a big surprise to us, and what it tells us is that people look at mental health issues in a much different way than they do a physical disability.”

DMEC's survey also found that although employers have broadened the range of mental health services, education and training they provide to employees and their managers, the percentage of companies that have actually implemented many of those programs has dropped dramatically since 2010.

According to the survey results, as much as 15% fewer employers provided training and education on depression and anxiety disorder awareness, stress management and communication skills in 2014 than in 2010.

However, Ms. Rhodes said, the percentage decline in employer-provided training, education and support services is likely only one of the factors contributing to the rising stigmatization of mental and behavioral health conditions.

“It's a bigger issue than any individual employer can address on their own, even though they do try,” Ms. Rhodes said. “We still haven't acknowledged as a society that working, functional employees can have varying degrees of behavioral health issues. All we can do is continue to educate employers and employees, and keep these issues out in the forefront.”