Mental Health Discrimination at Work

Mental Health Discrimination at Work, StudySmarter Business

Our Guest Author for this article is Stephen Whitton from [M]enable. Stephen is the Founder of [M]enable, an organisation that aims to raise awareness of Mental Health in the male-dominated world of the Automotive Industry. [M]enable collaborates with multiple organisations to provide mental health support in the form of workshops, keynote talks, and coaching. Stephen, in particular, is a prominent Mental Health Speaker who encourages men to seek support and speak openly about issues that affect them.

What is mental health discrimination at work?

Well, in considering this question, I’m drawn to assert that as it’s late 2023, I would hope that any last remnants of discrimination at work are dwindling if not rapidly diminishing. But as you read this, YOU will know whether that is the case! 

So, let me start by outlining a few more, maybe obvious, assertions;

  1. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health! It pains me deeply when I hear (and still do, often) people say ‘oh X is off work with mental health’. So, the first assertion – mental health is within all of us and just like the mechanical components of our bodies, our mind can be ill at ease, let us down or be problematic. 
  2. Discrimination results from the decisions that are made, based on judgements or assumptions and the associated behaviours – cultural, educational and environmental factors have a bearing on that. Discrimination in this case refers to the negativity that’s projected onto others based on our own belief system. 
  3. Mental Health discrimination in the workplace [where it exists] is cultural – as is the remedy. 
  4. Workplace culture varies hugely and is driven by the way people interact with each other, which, in itself is driven by a myriad of factors – how the workplace creates a great culture and maintains it is dealt with further on. 

What kinds of discrimination are there?

From experience, I have witnessed and been subject to ‘extrinsic’ and ‘intrinsic’ discrimination. Extrinsic is based on those judgements and assumptions from others, who will be looking through the lens of their own lives combined with the struggles and pressures they perceive to be present in the workplace. So, for example, there may be discrimination based on the perception of someone’s ability to do the job, to fit in, to be from a similar background etc – so, when a mental health issue or situation arises for that individual, others may discriminate and judge! 

Add on the extra layer of ‘intrinsic’ discrimination and we have a recipe for unpleasantness in the workplace. I have often said that no-one can say anything to me that is harsher than what I say to myself. My personal perceptions of whether I’m liked, being judged as competent, adding value or fitting in, coupled with the lens that I look through when I talk to myself, create my intrinsic or internal dialogue. I’m sure you, like many others are very similar. Historically, this is not something I wanted to talk about, in case someone judged me as weak or not worthy! 

Put the two areas together in the workplace and if the culture is born out of pressure, lack of communication, minimal training in this area, inconsistent management commitment, unclear purpose and a tendency to ‘recruit in our own likeness’ and voila – discriminatory behaviour has a place to grow! 

What is the equality act 2010

The Equality Act protects people against discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics, of which there are 9:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

We are required to consider all individuals in their day to day work, in shaping policy and in providing services. This is in line with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) introduced by the Equality Act 2010.

The above is an extract from the website, here is the link;

The 9 protected characteristics highlight areas that can contribute to intrinsic beliefs as well as extrinsic ones from our environments. Throw in the pressures of modern life and the contributory factors in the workplace and this is further proof that mental health issues can arise for anyone at anytime. 

Examples of mental health discrimination at work

Once again asserting that in this day and age, discrimination around mental health should be diminishing, we still hear occasional stories of;

‘x is off with mental health issues – they can’t cope with the job’

‘man-up lad, you have to be tough to work here!’ 

‘Oh that’s just y, she’s always moody like that’

The implication of course from both an extrinsic and intrinsic point of view is that mental health issues = weakness = inability to work here effectively! The trick for leaders is to recognise if that is the case and to understand what contribution the business is making to someone’s issues! 

In 2023, we are post-pandemic (hopefully) but the world is now ravaged by war in Europe and the Middle East, cost of living challenges, uncertainty and insecurity – as a result, levels of depression, stress and anxiety are higher than ever. The World Health Organisation suspect that 1:4 of us are currently struggling and the UK’s own Automotive Industry Charity, Ben, discovered this was more like 1:3 among people surveyed who work in that sector! 

Organisations and the people within them are now more acutely aware than ever of the presence of poor mental health and the need to support colleagues and create the right environments and cultures. 

How to avoid MH discrimination at work

This is a drum I will bang until I retire / depart, I’m sure – but the key to avoiding the discrimination around mental health, boils down to culture! But, for me there are five critical factors to consider;

  1. Management Commitment – are the leaders of the business fully committed to the wellbeing of their team! Is it in evidence day to day? 
  2. Communication – Are leaders practicing good communications? Ask the staff, what would they say? 
  3. Training – Is there commitment to ensure everyone is given all the tools needed to do the job? With regards to Mental Health, many companies have trained up Mental Health First Aiders – but what’s happened since? How are they supported, embedded, given the empowerment to be proactive? 
  4. Recruitment – and every aspect of the employee journey, should shout out that the business is committed to wellbeing! Entrepreneurial leaders will look for team members who bring difference and diversity – not a clone of them! And so, with that, a full commitment to overall wellbeing needs to go hand-in-hand. 
  5. Finally – my favourite – ‘purpose’ in a large proportion of the employees who reach out who are struggling mentally, cite a lack of purpose or clarity of purpose sitting within their issues! Individuals need to develop their own sense of purpose and value, and this needs to align with the business they work for. Leaders need to communicate clearly and often, what that purpose is! 


So, it’s 2023 – in short, there’s no place in the world [period] for discrimination of any kind! And, specifically and in the workplace any kind of discrimination that’s known about and tolerated will be impacting people’s mental health. 

Organisations need to work to create psychologically safe spaces and encourage people to speak up and reach out, if they want to. Leaders need to role model the behaviours of businesses that do not discriminate and make it clear that any discrimination is not acceptable. 

Mental Health is the responsibility of the individual, but they need to feel safe to discuss this – and this may not be easy due to their own culture, upbringing, education and their own intrinsic beliefs! 

People perform well, when they feel good about themselves, so workplaces should be looking for ways to create ‘mental wealth’ – support, opportunities for self-care and openness.

Now, if you want to know more about ‘mental wealth’ – please get in touch at or

Stephen Whitton from Menable, Mental Health Discrimination at Work, StudySmarter

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