How can employers break down mental health stigma when hiring?

Written by
Tom Ritchie

11 Oct 2016

11 Oct 2016 • by Tom Ritchie

There are few things more daunting in our professional lives than applying for a new job. No matter how well we may fit the brief, doubt will inevitably creep in at every stage of the process. Taking the plunge and hitting send on an application form, showing up and showing out at the interview, bedding in to a new place; it can be wrought with worry.

For people that have suffered from issues relating to their mental health, it can become an incredibly fretful process. Looking around the internet yesterday the discourse around World Mental Health Day has generally been positive. Leaders are becoming more attuned to the struggles their employees’ may face,  be it the greater focus on identifying signs of depression and anxiety, or the importance placed on creating an emotionally intelligent company culture, the discussion is moving forward. Despite this, one negative word still rears its ugly head: stigma. 

The stigma around mental health often leaves applicants wondering whether they should even bother applying for a job. Where we have been so reticent to discuss these issues in the past, a new environment with no guarantee of a supportive framework can appear to be impenetrable. Factor in the fear an otherwise interested recruiter might reject an interviewee after the disclose their past, doubt will almost inevitably creep in.

So how can a prospective employer make the process easier? Kate Headley is director of diversity consultancy at The Clear Company, a consultancy that helps businesses recruit from a more diverse pool of talent. She believes that making adjustments for an applicant shows a willingness to employ the right person for the job, no matter their issues: “As a business we not only ensure all our staff and new recruits are comfortable in requesting reasonable adjustments in the hiring process and workplace, but we also work with companies of all shapes and sizes in order to enable them to do the same.

“Reasonable adjustments for candidates and employees with mental health conditions may include; support with managing workload, flexible hours to allow for periods of rest, a desk in a quiet area of the office to help manage anxiety, time off work to attend appointments or a little extra time to make decisions to help manage stress. Ultimately, no one is in a better position than the person living with a mental health condition to determine what support they need. “

Requesting these adjustments can often be daunting in itself. One of the biggest doubts can be whether an applicant should disclose previous issues in the application process. It’s easy to say that honesty is the best policy, but in this case it truly is. Employers will value honesty, and it will make the on-boarding process easier for both parties. 

Headley added: “If there are any adjustments that need to be made to the hiring process in order to accommodate the individual, declaring this upfront will enable the candidate to perform to their best abilities.

“Secondly, by encouraging more candidates to make these upfront declarations we can help address the stigma that surrounds mental health in the workplace. Once hiring managers see the sheer number of top quality applications that are being received from people living with conditions such as depression or anxiety, I am sure we will see a significant shift in perceptions.”

It stands to reason that openness from both the applicant and the employer is integral to breaking down this stigma. If employers and employees talking openly about mental health is the key to breaking down stigma in the workplace, it’s now time to initiate that conversation before they’ve even got the job.