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10 Real-Life Examples of Mental Health Discrimination at Work

May 22, 2023

When thinking about mental health, you might not think about the workplace. That’s because for decades there has been a stigma around mental health. This stigma has led to many people keeping their mental health journeys private, oftentimes resulting in shame and isolation.

And while today mental health has become less stigmatized, unfortunately mental health discrimination still occurs. And one place this discrimination can be particularly impactful is in the workplace.

This is why it’s important for leaders to not only prioritize their employees’ mental health but also be able to see and fight examples of mental health discrimination at work.


Mental Health Discrimination Prevalence

Discussing mental health discrimination at work may raise the question - how prevalent is this type of discrimination. Unfortunately, discrimination accusations are on the rise.

According to newly released statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, about 30% of ADA charges in 2021 were related to mental health discrimination. That’s an increase of 20% from 2010.

Anxiety and PTSD are the leading conditions contributing to that trend, accounting for nearly 60% of all mental health discrimination charges in 2021. Depression and bipolar disorder charges were up nearly 8% and 3%, respectively.


Types of Mental Health Discrimination at Work

Mental health discrimination isn’t always obvious to an outsider. Sometimes discrimination can even be unintentional, but it doesn’t make it any less impactful to the receiver of the discrimination. This is why it’s crucial for leaders to learn about discrimination and be able to address it when it happens.

First, we need to establish the difference between the types of discrimination.

  • Direct mental health discrimination:

    Direct mental health discrimination is the kind that is most noticeable to an outsider. In these cases, discrimination occurs directly because an employee has a mental health condition.

  • Indirect mental health discrimination:

    Indirect mental health discrimination occurs when a system is in place that disproportionately hinders someone with a mental health condition.

  • Disability discrimination:

    For some people, their mental health condition can classify as a disability. Disability discrimination is when a person is then disciplined for a behavior caused by their disability.

It’s clear to see why it’s important for leaders and managers to learn about mental health. Doing so will help fight against bias and discrimination in the workplace.


RELATED: Mental Health in the Workplace: How to Support Employees’ Mental Health at Work


10 Examples of Mental Health Discrimination at Work

It’s one thing to know that mental health discrimination occurs and the types that exist. But it’s a different story to be able to spot examples of mental health discrimination at work.

Here, we’ll give real-life examples of the types of mental health discrimination that can arise at work.

Direct mental health discrimination at work

  1. Feeling like an employee may not be capable of their job responsibilities due to a mental health issue like anxiety, depression, or ADHD. They may be passed up for a promotion that they otherwise qualify for due to this perception that they’re not capable.
  2. Mocking an employee for going to therapy or taking medication for their mental health.
  3. Influencing others to not trust or think an employee is incapable because of their mental health.


Indirect mental health discrimination at work

  1. Sitting someone who struggles with sensory processing next to a loud factory. This may make it harder for them to concentrate, causing them to miss deadlines, etc.
  2. Requiring someone to take a night shift even though their medication makes them excessively drowsy.
  3. An employee may have experienced a traumatic event that they now associate with a certain color. It may have been a color they were wearing during an assault, or the color of a car that caused a major accident. Requiring this person to wear a company T-shirt in this color may trigger their PTSD.
  4. Giving an Autistic employee a poor performance review due to their communication difficulties or for not joining in voluntary social events.

RELATED: The DEI and Mental Health Connection (and Why It Matters)

Disability discrimination at work

  1. This could be a person being punished for missing work due to their mental health.
  2. Denying a request for an extended leave to recover from job stress and anxiety, then terminating them for struggling to perform their job.
  3. Not making reasonable accommodations for an employee’s mental health. This could include not occasionally allowing working from home even when the job can be done remotely, or not allowing a modified break schedule, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Mental health discrimination can take many forms and occur in any area of a person’s life. Here, we discuss mental health discrimination at work and highlight examples of direct and indirect discrimination as well as disability discrimination.

Examples of mental health discrimination include mocking an employee for going to therapy or taking medication for their mental health; requiring someone to take a night shift even though their medication makes them excessively drowsy; or punishing a person for missing work due to their mental health.

What are the signs of mental health discrimination?

Signs of mental health discrimination include:

  • Social isolation
  • Reluctance to seek help for fear of retaliation
  • Being given fewer advancement opportunities or responsibilities

Next Steps

Watching for examples of mental health discrimination at work is something that will take constant time and effort. But building a healthy work culture is the first step to ensuring discrimination is unlikely.

Also encourage HR leaders to send out communications about mental health. These resources can include encouragement for employees to discuss their disabilities, challenges, or struggles with their HR department and manager. Be sure to include this as part of the onboarding process to help support from day one.

Terryberry provides solutions to help build a healthy, accepting work culture through effective employee engagement. These solutions include:

Ready to learn more? Schedule a demo with our team to get a hands-on walkthrough of how Terryberry can transform the culture of your workplace.


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