Perceptions of the stigma around receiving professional psychological help can be a barrier to seeking out mental-health services, according to a new study.

The study, which was published by the Employee Assistance Trade Association’s EASNA Research Notes, looked into perceptions of stigma in relation to seeking help from employee assistance programs in a sample of Canadian employees between the ages of 20 and 65.

While treatment stigma is often studied in relation to getting help through mental-health services, the study found perceptions of stigma are a barrier to seeking help from a workplace benefit such as an EAP. “A greater understanding of EAP-related stigma could help employers and EAP providers develop strategies and interventions aimed at breaking down this barrier and attaining utilization rates unhindered by worker perceptions about help-seeking,” says Marc Milot, the study’s author.

Read: What you don’t know about your employee assistance program

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of participating employees reported perceptions of stigma when receiving help from an EAP. The greater the stigma reported by an employee, the lower their self-reported likelihood of getting help from the program.

“From a Canadian perspective, the deployment of educational interventions in the workplace aimed at increasing familiarity with EAPs and addressing perceptions of treatment stigma might be considered to address low EAP utilization rates, to close existing gender gaps in EAP use and to increase use in other high-stigma segments of the workforce,” says Milot.

According to the study, the top predictors of higher EAP treatment stigma included being male, reporting higher levels of job insecurity, screening for depression and reporting lower levels of familiarity with EAPs.

Read: Evaluating the value of employee assistance programs

Interventions aimed at addressing EAP treatment stigma could reduce barriers to use and optimize workplace health, says Milot. “Having access to an EAP that offers online counselling services could also help certain workers overcome feelings of stigma regarding help-seeking and increase their likelihood of using this workplace benefit in the future, although more research is needed to confirm this.”