Overcoming Stigma Around Mental Illness and Violence

Posted by: 
Dan Jolivet
Image of anonymous person sitting on steps.

The news is consistently filled with unthinkable events and, because of that, we’re hearing more conversations around mental health and its connection with violence. People are quick to assume that the cause of these horrible events is mental illness when, in fact, most people with mental illness are not violent. According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, only 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness.1 Conversely, people with severe mental illness are 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.1

The assumption that mental illness leads to violence adds to one of the greatest barriers preventing people from accessing mental health care — stigma. Society’s perception of people with mental illness can cause employees with psychiatric diagnoses to struggle in silence instead of reaching out for help. Instead of seeking treatment, they can fall into thinking that they can’t function at work like they used to or get back to work after a leave. And even if they do get back to work, they’re concerned about being labeled as “crazy.”

This means that you may be missing out on great employees who are labeled for their condition, preventing them from leading productive and satisfying lives. It’s a win-win for you and employees to work through the mental illness stigma in the workplace. While we can’t change everything, there are a few things you can do as an employer to help:

  1. Communicate
    Making it clear to all employees that mental health conditions are manageable and something that should be treated similarly to physical health can help fight the stigma. You can start with proactive communication about mental health, building awareness of your organization’s services that help with mental illnesses and how individuals can access these benefits. Explaining this to employees during their initial orientation will likely not be enough, so don’t hesitate to work this into other wellness reminders and employee education.
  2. Assist
    Often, simple accommodations can help employees with a mental illness be more productive at work. Accommodations, like flexibility to attend psychiatric appointments or moving to a workstation with more natural light for an employee with depression, can make a significant difference.
  3. Connect
    Leveraging the experts at your disability carrier can help with developing stay-at-work or return-to-work plans and setting up accommodations, like the ones mentioned above. By connecting the employee with a consultant from a program like Workplace PossibilitiesSM, you also can help ensure the services and accommodations that are implemented are right for your organization and employees.

Being proactive with your communication around mental illness, setting up assistance for employees and providing a connection with your disability carrier can help fight the stigma around mental illness in the workplace. In doing so, you can help valued workers stay at work or return to work healthier, leading more fully satisfying lives.


1 Mental Health Myths and Facts, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, August 29, 2017. mentalhealth.gov/basics/mental-health-myths-facts. Accessed May 8, 2018.