Presentation W O4

W O4 (Oral Presentation):
Stigma: Barrier to psychological health and safety

Presented by: Kate Toth

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Toth K1

  1. Conestoga College, School of Business and Hospitality, Kitchener, ON, Canada



The duty to provide a psychologically safe workplace is a significant concern, as financial damages awarded for mental injury have increased by 700% in the last five years. Most legal actions are related to workplace failures in reasonable/clear job demands, safety for employees to voice concerns, and responding to workplace conflict. Stigma in the workplace can specifically be linked to the latter two areas for legal action. Psychologically unsafe work practices have been linked to increased employee stress and to common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. These disorders pose a substantial burden for employers, with productivity loss estimates in Canada of $17.7 billion/year. Functional losses for these employees continue even after symptom improvement; thus, prevention, where possible, is optimal.


Findings are part of a larger study that used grounded theory methods to identify the decision-making process related to disclosure of a mental disorder at work. Interviews were conducted with 13 employees of a post-secondary educational institution in Canada. Data were analyzed according to grounded theory methods through processes of open, selective, and theoretical coding.


Stigma was identified as the greatest barrier to disclosure at work. Participants discussed the differences between disclosing a mental versus a physical health issue, the stereotypes associated with mental disorders (incompetence, responsibility for the disorder, manipulating the system), and being seen and/or treated differently after disclosure (being the subject of gossip, being judged, losing opportunities for promotion).


Stigma related to mental disorders in the workplace has been linked to nondisclosure in that setting. Not only does this limit opportunity for help-seeking through work accommodations, but threatens psychological safety for employees with mental disorders. Specifically, employees who fear stigmatization do not feel safe to voice concerns. Moreover, employees who are "outed" often face responses that result in workplace conflict/harassment, such as being the subject of gossip, social exclusion, judgment, and limiting of opportunities for advancement. Through reducing stigma in the workplace, employers can enhance inclusivity and psychological safety.

Schedule Details

Wednesday October 1
14:00 - 15:30 Afternoon Concurrent Sessions (W O1 - W O4 and Seminars 7 and 8)
Session: Ethical issues and vulnerable workers
Room B