Exploring the challenges certain industries face with mental health stigma

Exploring the challenges certain industries face with mental health stigma

The competition for talent following the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an acceleration of more forward-thinking, people-first businesses. In this competitive space, we’re seeing more businesses consider the wellbeing of their teams, promote positive attitudes and openness surrounding mental health and invest in workplace support. However, research shows us that this isn’t necessarily the case across the board – with certain sectors finding mental health stigma a difficult hurdle to overcome.

In fact, a study from the University of Derby reveals that a high proportion of UK hospitality workers have high shame when it comes to mental health. On top of this, Veterinary surgeons are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems and the stigma associated with them often acts as a barrier to accessing care. Similarly, according to Construction News Mind Matters survey, 63% of respondents who had taken time off for their mental health, didn’t tell their employer that was the reason and 81% of those surveyed agreed that there is still a stigma.

We obviously can’t generalise and assume this is the case across all businesses in these sectors – and in these sectors alone – especially as attitudes towards mental health are individual and not exclusively sector-specific. However, these statistics do provide interesting insight into the potential challenges some businesses face in normalising conversations about mental health. So, why are certain industries more susceptible to mental health stigma? What impact can this have on engagement? And, what can businesses do to overcome these challenges? 


By nature, industries such as construction, healthcare and hospitality can be incredibly demanding, with long working hours, tight deadlines and a difficult work-life juggle – especially if remote working isn’t an option. It’s therefore no surprise that individuals who work in these sectors are often more vulnerable to mental health problems. However, it’s the culture and environment of a workplace that determines how individuals go about dealing with these problems and in workplaces where there’s mental health stigma, many are suffering in silence. 

Before we can look at how businesses can overcome mental health stigma, we must first look at what causes it and why it’s sometimes so ingrained in workplace culture. For example, in the construction industry, which is male-dominated, CIOB says the macho culture often makes it harder to talk about and access mental health support. On top of this, in industries that are highly competitive or where there tend to be clear hierarchies in place, such as healthcare and hospitality, employees might find it difficult to open up about their struggles for fear of seeming weak or it being held against their job performance. These factors, and many more, can fuel mental health stigma.


By now, most employers know the scope of benefits that come from having an engaged workforce. But, it seems less know that the health and wellbeing of their teams – and the way they support their problems both in and out of the workplace – can have a huge impact on engagement and productivity. By creating a safe and open environment where employees can freely seek help and access tools to tackle their problems, businesses demonstrate that they value their employees as individuals and that their wellbeing is a priority. As most of us spend a large proportion of our lives working, this is so important to how motivated and dedicated we are to our role and the success of the wider company.

On top of this, mental health stigma poses a significant barrier to participation in the workplace. If an individual feels they can’t freely express themselves and seek the support of their peers and senior managers, this will negatively impact workplace inclusion, their sense of belonging and, in turn, their social wellbeing, engagement and productivity. 


Build an inclusive and open environment

Before mental health stigma can be removed and conversations about mental health can happen naturally in the workplace, managers and team leaders have a responsibility to build a more inclusive and open environment. This involves working to remove damaging phrases and unconscious shaming, sharing people’s stories, checking in with their teams regularly and signposting useful resources. By doing this they’ll help to create a workplace where individuals feel comfortable reaching out for help when they feel overwhelmed or they’re struggling, knowing they will be treated with care and respect.

Offer wellbeing tools and resources 

Offering on-demand tools and resources to employees is a great way to normalise mental health conversations and ensure team members have access to support when they need it most. Through our health and wellbeing solution, the zone, we deliver a wide range of valuable services that help employees manage their overall wellbeing – including an Employee Assistance Programme offering compassionate counselling, a mental health support app, an online mindfulness course and debt management service. The zone is a hub of support for your employees to tap into whenever they need it.

Final thoughts

To summarise, it’s clear that there’s a disparity between the challenges different sectors face with mental health stigma and how this affects the way they approach employee mental health. Despite more industries tuning in to the wellbeing needs of their people, particularly over the last couple of years, some are struggling with the challenge of opening up the conversation about mental health more than others. 

Overcoming mental health stigma might look like a huge hurdle when we look at it from sector to sector. But, individual businesses and individuals, regardless of sector, have the power to make a positive difference in the workplace and encourage others to do the same.


Read next: Normalising mental health conversations in the workplace

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