The surge in antidepressant usage continues, with almost half a million more adults in England seeking solace in these medications compared to the previous year. In 2021-2022, a staggering 8.3 million individuals were prescribed antidepressants, reflecting the prevalent psychological struggles exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic challenges, isolation, and health concerns. This rise is particularly noticeable in workplaces, where a distressing stigma persists.
In Inverness, Scotland, a legal battle unfolded when a woman’s job offer was retracted due to her disclosed antidepressant use. Despite excelling in her application process, her offer was withdrawn after a medical evaluation revealed her medication history. The case highlighted the stigma surrounding mental health within certain workspaces.
Eradicating Mental Health Stigma
Central to the issue is the pervasive stigma around mental health, affecting even therapeutic interventions like medications and counselling. Research by Unmind found that over half the population (51%) feels uncomfortable discussing sensitive topics at work, despite 68% emphasising the importance of fostering such discussions. The UK exhibits a double standard, with mental health discussions causing twice as much unease as conversations about physical well-being. Additionally, 24% fear discussing mental health could hinder career progression.
McKinsey & Company’s research concurs, revealing that more than half of participants fear stigma from colleagues if their mental health struggles are known. This contributes to the perception that those dealing with conditions like depression or anxiety face differential treatment, discouraging them from seeking support.
Misinformation exacerbates this stigma. Misguided beliefs linking medication stigma with notions of emotional fragility, or “quick fixes” are widespread. Scepticism about antidepressant efficacy also persists due to a lack of understanding about their mechanisms. While the simple “chemical imbalance” theory has been debunked, research affirms the effectiveness of antidepressants. A 2018 study involving 116,477 individuals across 522 trials conclusively demonstrated that 21 commonly prescribed antidepressants outperformed placebos in reducing acute depression symptoms.
Promoting Acceptance in the Workplace
Although progress has been made, destigmatising mental health in workplaces remains incomplete. Some employers are addressing this by offering well-being benefits, including therapeutic counselling. This shift isn’t solely altruistic; organisations recognise the impact of psychological health on issues like absenteeism and productivity.
Steve Peralta, Chief Wellbeing Officer at Unmind, emphasises the importance of a safe and open atmosphere for discussing well-being. This is key to dismantling stigma, benefiting both employers and employees. Wendy Halliday, Director of Scotland’s initiative “See Me,” underlines the universal nature of mental health struggles, especially in the face of challenges like the cost-of-living crisis. She stresses the need for everyone to feel comfortable discussing mental well-being, fostering genuine acceptance.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.