Workplace Discrimination Happens for Mental Health Workers, Too

Discrimination in daily life can present challenges for many people. Individuals who deal with discrimination may develop feelings of isolation and fear or may become angry and aggressive. In the workplace, discrimination occurs in many forms and often impacts people in the same way as other types of discrimination.

Workers who feel threatened, harassed, fearful, bullied, or even sexually intimidated by coworkers or others in the organization can experience a decrease in psychological well-being. This can lead to poor work performance, as well as generally poor mental health. But how does workplace discrimination specifically affect those who work in the mental health field?

To answer this, and to find out if the source of discrimination influences the effect, Stephen Wood of the University of Leicester’s School of Management in the United Kingdom recently conducted a survey of over 1,700 mental health workers. He asked them to report the type of discrimination they experienced and the source of the discrimination. Using that information, Wood evaluated how source affected the outcome and impact of the discrimination.

He found that mental health workers reported a variety of forms of discrimination, including physical aggression, sexual discrimination, bullying, verbal abuse, and gender discrimination. He also discovered that organizational procedures designed to address these acts had an impact on the effect of discrimination.

Wood noticed that of four different sources of discrimination—including visitors, patients, coworkers, and managers—all had unique effects on psychological well-being. For instance, all of the sources affected mental well-being, but the effect of discrimination from patients and coworkers was diminished significantly by high perceptions of workplace justice. This was also the case, albeit to a much lesser degree, for discrimination from managers and visitors. But because managers were also often the point of contact for workplace justice, this effect of this discrimination was highly dependent upon the justice structure within the organization.

“Nonetheless,” added Wood, “Managerial discrimination has the strongest direct and indirect effects on mental health workers’ well-being and job satisfaction, consistent with our theory.” These results demonstrate the powerful negative effects of discrimination within the workplace and underscore the importance of addressing this issue in all professional arenas, and in particular, those organizations created to improve mental health and well-being.

Wood, Stephen, Johan Braeken, and Karen Niven. (2013). Discrimination and well-being in organizations: Testing the differential power and organizational justice theories of workplace aggression. Journal of Business Ethics 115.3 (2013): 617-34.ProQuest. Web.

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  • Constance

    August 15th, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    I sure do hate it that this has to happen to anyone, but in some ways when it does happen to you it could make you more sympathetic to the anxieties that are also being faced by those who are also dealing with the same thing. I don’t think that there would be anyone in the field who would take these kinds of actions lightly but you may not realize just how much of an impact it can make on someone’s work situation until you have experienced it yourself. I am sickened when someone is so blatantly going to use and abuse any power that they may have over their employees, but it is so important to recognize that when this happens it is not your fault and you have to report this kind of bahvior so that hopefully the person will be stopped from belittling someone else and making them feel as terrible.

  • katie y

    August 16th, 2013 at 4:20 AM

    It is hard to do your best and perform at your optimum level when you know that there is someone in a supervisory leevl who doesn’t feel like what you are doing is up to snuff.


    August 17th, 2013 at 1:17 AM

    Discrimination and abuse has no place at work..Really,there is nothing anybody is gaining by doing or taking that except for creating an environment where good things cannot happen..It is a setup for disaster and reduced productivity.The sooner those perpetuating and tolerating this realize this fact the better every workplace can be..!

  • Alexa

    August 17th, 2013 at 6:51 AM

    I think that we would all be lying if any of us said that we have never encountered some kind of discrimination in the workplace. Some of us have felt it because we are younger, because we are women, we are men, whatever the reason may be, there are just some people who are not going to be happy with what they have so they will exert their power in a way that demeans someone else. The essence of this though, and I think something that is critical to remember is that typically this is not about you, this is about their own shortcomings that they are feeling. Of course that doe not make their cations right but you can take some comfort knowing that most of the time they are doing this because you usually have something that they feel threatened by and that is why they are trying to belittle you.

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