Social stigma is an underestimated contributing factor to unemployment in people with mental illness or mental health issues: Position paper and future directions

E. P. M. Brouwers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

Background
As yet, little is known about the effects of mental health stigma on sustainable employment. This is surprising, as mental health stigma is common, and because people with severe and common mental disorders are 7 and 3 times more likely to be unemployed, respectively, than people with no disorders. As the global lifetime prevalence of mental disorders is 29%, the high unemployment rates of people with these health problems constitute an important and urgent public health inequality problem that needs to be addressed.

Main text
The aim of this position paper is to illustrate the assumption that stigma contributes to the unemployment of people with mental illness and mental health issues with evidence from recent scientific studies on four problem areas, and to provide directions for future research. These four problem areas indicate that: (1) employers and line managers hold negative attitudes towards people with mental illness or mental health issues, which decreases the chances of people with these health problems being hired or supported; (2) both the disclosure and non-disclosure of mental illness or mental health issues can lead to job loss; (3) anticipated discrimination, self-stigma and the ‘Why Try’ effect can lead to insufficient motivation and effort to keep or find employment and can result in unemployment; and (4) stigma is a barrier to seeking healthcare, which can lead to untreated and worsened health conditions and subsequently to adverse occupational outcomes (e.g. sick leave, job loss).

Conclusions
The paper concludes that stigma in the work context is a considerable and complex problem, and that there is an important knowledge gap especially regarding the long-term effects of stigma on unemployment. To prevent and decrease adverse occupational outcomes in people with mental illness or mental health issues there is an urgent need for high quality and longitudinal research on stigma related consequences for employment. In addition, more validated measures specifically for the employment setting, as well as destigmatizing intervention studies are needed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number36
JournalBMC Psychology
Volume8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Attitudes
  • Common mental disorders
  • Disclosure
  • Discrimination
  • Employment
  • Mental health
  • Severe mental disorders
  • Social stigma
  • Treatment gap
  • Workplace

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