Decades of research has revealed a gulf of differences between men’s and women’s mental health. From causes to symptoms, men can experience mental health struggles very differently than women do.
Bold as this claim might seem, it is reflected in the terrifying statistic that around 75% of suicide in 2021 are committed by men. In fact, it is the biggest cause of death in men under the age of 35 in the UK.
Mental health at work is one area where the contrast between genders is clear. Experts from charities, universities and private companies have all delved into how the workplace can impact men’s mental health. It is clear that work can contribute to (and even cause) stress, depression and anxiety.
In this post, we’ll look at what you as an employer can do to support men’s health, as well as how you might spot potential issues. We’ll also cover the impacts it might have at work but we’ll start by looking at just how widespread the issue is.
It is difficult to say how many men struggle with poor mental health. A lot of research on men’s mental health suggests that they are less likely to seek support or treatment when they face mental distress. This means a lot of statistics underestimate the problem.
What statistics by the Mental Health Foundation do show, is that at least 1 in 8 men suffer from mental health problems during their lifetime. The alarmingly high rate of suicide among men goes some way to demonstrate how many men fail to find the mental health support they need as well.
As men’s mental health is clearly a growing problem, it’s tempting to look for a simple, easy-to-fix cause. Of course, as with all mental health problems, this is impossible.
Factors such as the stigma that seems to surround men’s mental wellbeing explain the severity of mental health issues in men but do not explain the cause. The same goes for the endemic reluctance to discuss problems.
There is research that suggests some of the factors that can contribute. Relationships, physical health and general health all play a part.
But one factor that comes up repeatedly is work. In fact, one survey carried out by MIND in 2017 showed that 1 in 3 men blame their workplace for causing poor mental health. In comparison, only 1 in 7 linked it to their life outside of work.
This link seems to be stronger in men than women. Only 1 in 5 women drew a line between mental health problems and work compared to those 1 in 3 men.
Again, no one thing can be blamed for causing poor mental health in every man. However, aspects that seem to come up again and again are:
As an employer, addressing these issues can be an intimidating prospect. But the rewards you see when supporting your employee’s mental health are always worth any work.
When it comes to supporting the mental health of your male employees you will face another significant barrier. Time and time again, research shows that men are less likely to seek help when they face issues with their mental health. In fact, they are less likely to identify a mental health problem at all.
Research by Mintel in 2019 suggests a couple of reasons for this. In their survey, 17% of men believed professional help would be ‘too expensive’. While a worrying 20% of men thought that professional mental health support wouldn’t help them anyway.
Another barrier identified not just in this research but in almost all research done into men’s mental health problems is the ‘stigma’ around male mental health.
In 2019, 26% of the men spoken to by Mintel admitted that they wouldn’t seek help with their mental health due to feelings of embarrassment.
Other research by the Mental Health Foundation shows fear of seeming weak, the pressure of toxic masculinity and the societal expectation to be dominant, strong and in control all contribute to this stigma. They leave men feeling unable to open up about their problems and concerns.
This stigma exists both inside and outside of the workplace, but it plays a significant part in mental health at work.
Many men seem to feel they can’t confide in colleagues or bosses about the problems they face. This puts them under even more pressure as they try to keep up appearances that everything is fine. And, as they aren’t able to relieve this pressure either, it intensifies poor mental health.
This vicious circle just increases the problem.
Statistics suggest that some of your male employees will struggle with their mental health. As an employer, it is important you do what you can to lighten this load for them. Here are some suggestions to help you do that.
Teach your staff to spot signs of mental ill-health in themselves and their colleagues through training. Regularly running courses such as Mental Health First Aid will give your employees the chance to learn about a range of issues they may encounter including depression, anxiety and stress as well as giving them a chance to discuss problems and ask questions in a safe, controlled environment.
Encouraging men to discuss their own mental health and wellbeing is an important part of reducing the stigma around poor mental health.
Make sure line managers and senior staff feel comfortable checking in with their teams to lead conversations. It is up to them to make clear to male employees that issues are handled sensitively and signpost that they have space to talk.
This will reduce stress among employees as well as help them feel a stronger sense of control.
Where practical,l allow flexible working hours, working from home, and varying workloads. When these aren’t possible, mental health sick days can create some flexibility instead.
Constant hard work and heavy workloads are unsustainable. Tempting as they might be to encourage, they will cost you in the long run as your staff take more sick days for physical illness or higher staff turnover.
Instead, set realistic workloads and goals for your employees, and encourage them to raise concerns if they become unsustainable.
Encourage staff to finish work on time, take regular breaks and use their holiday entitlement throughout the year. This also involves taking all measures possible to be able to give them their requested holiday days.
Time off work from work is vital for protecting mental health – make sure it is respected.
A great way to build a more open environment at work is to encourage staff to get involved with men’s movements and charities.
Things like Men’s Health Week and Movember are perfect, creating awareness of men’s mental health and physical issues. Combine these with specific mental health initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Week, Stress Awareness Month and Time to Talk Day but keep the emphasis on how men can engage.
Creating a health and wellbeing program can support your employees’ wellbeing inside and outside of work. Partnering with a reputable and knowledgeable occupational health professional can help you build a healthier and happier workplace.
At David Barber Occupational Health, we can offer advice and programmes to help you support your staff. From building a health and wellbeing plan to on-site assessments, our specialist team can help improve the wellbeing of all your employees.
If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you make sure that none of your employees are struggling in silence, contact us today.
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