As we reflect back on the recent men’s health month, there is a very clear theme; men don’t seem to be as willing to talk about mental health as women, particularly in the workplace. What is less clear, is what can the workplace do about it ?
It would seem that men may see mental health differently. In the latest BITC survey only 25% of men said that they had a formal diagnoses of a mental health condition, compared to 39% of women. But, there is more to the story; 38% of men had not sought help for the last mental health condition that they encountered, compared to 23% of women. Men, are also less confident recognizing the signs of poor mental health and are almost 3 times as likely to say that they would be embarrassed to take time off due to a mental health issue, compared to a physical health issue.
Sadly, we know that having a mental health issue is a risk factor for suicide which, despite falling to a 30 year low, is still the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, accounting for more than two-thirds of all UK suicides.
Reasons why this might be the case are well documented, although perhaps it is less well understood how we can start to change. Evolution has shaped gender differences and this was a very successful strategy for thousands of years; but in a modern world, where roles are changing, many of these tough characteristics, discouraging men from showing emotions, their sense of purpose in the workplace, striving for power, success, control and invincibility are inhibiting men from showing any signs of vulnerability; and that includes accepting that men, as well as women have mental health and with that, sometimes mental health issues and illness.
In developing workplace programmes around mental health, most organisation’s don’t take a gender specific approach, but the approach must consider how men can be encouraged to be part of it. The outcomes should be the same; getting better at recognizing changes in ourselves and others, confidence to have a conversation and knowledge around how and where to signpost for support.
The programme must engage people; if face to face training is part of the approach, a facilitative learning style, led by someone who is familiar with your workplace, rather than a classroom based teaching style, will increase engagement and therefore impact. Time commitments, such as session length and timings, must be respective of an individual’s other priorities. Workplace process and support must be people driven, rather than process driven, encouraging conversations at every stage, bringing the theory to life at as many touch points as possible.
And, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use humour to engage both men and women, if that’s appropriate within your workplace. Understanding mental health and dispelling the long held myths and assumptions will equip you with confidence and comfort to know the language and themes than can reinforce stigma and how to avoid, but removing stigma, means, normalizing mental health, and in that respect it would be wonderful if we could get to a place where we can be as open as we are about our physical health ………even in the workplace.