November is men’s health month, dedicated to raising awareness of health issues that disproportionally affect men. As a part of this, it is worth taking the time to consider the shocking statistics surrounding men’s mental health, and what you can do to help as both employers and colleagues.
According to the Movember Men’s charity, an organisation that raises money for issues to do with men’s health, every minute a man loses their life to suicide across the globe. Further, one in eight men have a common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or OCD. These issues are exacerbated by the relative reluctance of men to reach out for help, with a reported 40% refusing to talk about their own mental health. Instead, there is a prevalent attitude amongst men to ‘just deal with it’, a misguided belief that their problems are theirs to deal with and theirs alone.
There is no single reason for this, but rather a confluence of social and biological factors. Perhaps the most obvious is the perceived stigma amongst men that reaching out for help will lead to them being seen as ‘weak’. This leads to a bottling up of emotion and inevitably results in unhealthy coping mechanisms like problem drinking or substance abuse. At the heart of this stigma is the unrealistic assumption, perpetuated through culture and the media, that the ideal man is one that is stoic, unmovable and unflappable – completely at odds with what we know to be the reality of the mind and the fluctuating nature of mental health. In fact, some research has suggested that this stigma means that men do not even recognise the mental health issues they may be experiencing, depriving them of the vocabulary to truly express themselves.
Another reason is that men can exhibit mental health issues in a way that is widely different from the stereotypical view of poor mental health. When you think of poor mental health you may think of symptoms such as despondency, sadness and melancholia. While these of course hold true, in men we often see depression and anxiety manifest in different ways. Studies have shown that men can be more aggressive and quick to anger when depressed in comparison with women, and they are also quicker to turn to the aforementioned problem drinking or substance abuse. A result of this is that men who are struggling can have the proclivity to alienate those around them, leading to a vicious cycle of self-isolation, self-medication and mental decline.
Despite the doom and gloom, there are steps that can be taken to counter this. On a broadly societal level – the way in which we talk to our friends and loved ones – the organisation R U OK? recommends the ALEC model. The first step is to Ask – taking the simple step to ask if someone is feeling okay can really open up the conversation and make the person who is struggling feel seen and heard. The next step is to Listen – give him your full attention and let him know that you are not judging. You’re not there to diagnose problems or offer solutions, but to let him express himself. In this conversation, try and Encourage Action. Is he getting enough sleep? Is he exercising enough? Try and encourage him to see a professional and speak about his problems with others. The final step is to Check In – follow up your conversation with a phone call or a text to show that you’re there for him.
There is plenty employers can do as well, such as developing a robust mental health strategy that can deal with the nuances and difficulties of mental health issues as they fall along gendered lines. An employer-funded benefit such as an EAP can really help to develop this. As an employer, it is worth asking is you are doing enough to support mental health in the workplace, whether in relation to your male employees or not. Everybody has the right to good wellbeing and a healthy mind, and a supportive and compassionate workplace is key to this. While a broader acceptance and awareness of mental health has grown over the past few years, there is still considerable work to be done. This is especially true for men’s mental health, where there is still a strong sense of stigma and shame.
As an employer, take the time to consider the mental health of your employees. If you have not already done so, it is up to you to take proactive and preventative measures to support mental health at work. The reward for getting this right is a happier, more productive workforce and a more successful organisation.