Are social workers stigmatised for mental health diagnoses?

We asked social workers whether they had ever experienced or witnessed prejudice in the workplace following the disclosure of a mental health diagnosis

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Do you feel supported in your workplace to speak about how you've been affected by the Israel-Gaza war?

  • No, I don't. (81%, 464 Votes)
  • Yes, I do. (19%, 106 Votes)

Total Voters: 570

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In a recent Community Care article, Sophie Ayers revealed that, following a return to social work after her bipolar diagnosis, she was ‘outed’ to her manager by a colleague who had read her blogs discussing her condition.

“My manager saw the move as one of a bystander wishing to help. I recognised the action for what it was: an attempt to alert the organisation that my bipolar diagnosis meant I should not be working there,” she wrote.

“For the next couple of years, I was constantly hyper-vigilant and, because of this person’s actions, felt shame for my condition.”

Unfortunately, Ayers is not alone within the social work profession, in terms of her experience.

Community Care poll results


A recent Community Care poll, which received 625 votes, found that over half of respondents (55%) had either experienced or noticed prejudice towards a colleague following the disclosure of a mental health diagnosis in the workplace.

Of those, 30% had experienced prejudice and 25% had witnessed co-workers being stigmatised; 45% had neither experienced or witnessed such prejudice in the workplace.

‘No support in place’

In the comments under Ayers’ article, various social workers admitted that her story ‘rang bells’ for them.

A reader who had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder said that, while their colleagues showed support following their return to work, senior management did not.

“The period off sick was managed so badly. The build up to return was demoralising. I’ve managed to stay back in the job for 14 months. Unfortunately a mixed episode forced me to go off sick again. I am due to return, probably against advice of my psychiatrist, but I am already sensing a ,‘We cannot make enough reasonable adjustments that are acceptable to the service’ talk and a dismissal conversation coming. It’s devastating and humiliating.”

Another practitioner said: “This rings bells for me too back 12 years ago when I was forced to take early retirement after a period of absence for what was then diagnosed as depression.

“Like [Ayers], I would have needed support to return but, despite my having been a children and families social worker for over 30 years, they said they didn’t have the resources to supervise me! Leading up to my breakdown, I had felt unsupported and victimised, so I was anxious and not sleeping. My doctor seemed to be the only one who truly understood or tried to.”

“I am also facing challenges with my own disabilities and my managers,” added another practitioner. 

“Sadly, any reasonable adjustments are seen as asking too much and I have been told that, if I cannot do the job (ie way too much work that frankly nobody is coping with), I should not be doing it.”

‘Disclose your diagnosis at the interview stage’

Duncan Ross, a social worker living with bipolar disorder, advised fellow practitioners to disclose the condition both at the interview stage and, where appropriate, with service users. 

“My experience has been positive. If the employer is aware of your diagnosis and decides not to appoint you on that basis then that suggests something about a working culture that would not be good for your mental health,” he said. 

“I also believe that, in some scenarios, it is appropriate to disclose your diagnosis to adults that you work with as this can be a way to model that you are authentic about anti-discriminatory practice.”

Share your story

Would you like to write about a day in your life as a social worker? Do you have any stories, reflections or experiences from working in social work that you’d like to share or write about?

If so, email our community journalist, Anastasia Koutsounia, at


One Response to Are social workers stigmatised for mental health diagnoses?

  1. Mercy Hlabangana May 3, 2024 at 4:18 pm #

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