“On the manly calendar, we only mark heroic days”1
It won’t come as a huge surprise to hear that men don’t tend to talk about their feelings. The fact that the UK suicide rate shows men are three times as likely to kill themselves than women – there is a marked gender difference how the sexes deal with the conditions that can drive them to their own deaths.
Workplaces don’t help. Many of the competitive and stressful industries – such as banking and the legal profession– are hierarchical and male, and failing is a sign of weakness.
As part of Men’s Health Awareness Month, Maudsley Learning at Work looked at how notions of what we expect from being a man can be mirrored at work. ‘The gender divide – mental health in the workplace’, held in November, kicked off with two experts considering ‘Workplace culture – myths around gender differences in mental health’.
Simon Howes works at the Mental Health Foundation and with a specialist interest in men’s emotional health. He began by looking at the idea of how we feel shame and believes it is divided on gender lines. “The bottom line is that men don’t want to be perceived as weak – that is the mantra that men hear for their entire lives. If we don’t understand the big-picture frameworks around men – how they act and how they behave, what they are comfortable with and not comfortable with – we won’t be able to tackle the issue of shame.”
Simon is sure that changing the language we use to get men talking about their mental health is critical to avoid shaming men. “Mental fitness makes far more sense to men than mental health”
Careers traditionally divided on gender lines continue to re-enforce this perception, “We don’t see a great deal of effort trying to get men into childcare or nursing, but we do see it for getting women into engineering. There is a double standard here and these stereotypes are very unhelpful.
“If we have a culture where we reinforce the idea that we expect men to do the tough stuff, make tough decisions, go out and lead, and all the other kinds of stereotypes, if that is what we are tell our male employees, then it is very hard for them to believe us when we ask them how they are feeling.”
Dr Muj Husain is a consultant liaison psychiatrist and works at King’s College Hospital and at the Maudsley. “In the last ten years, we have seen a sea change on how the public looks at mental health and the issue of stigma, but it has affected different groups in different ways. Men in particular have specific needs and do find it more difficult to talk about mental health so it is an important area to focus on.
“Men are three times as likely as women to die by suicide. Men are also three times more likely to have drug or alcohol problems so there is something there about self-medicating, trying to treat yourself in away that can often cause further problems.”
Maudsley Learning at Work can help all employees to improve literacy and understand mental health issues, which is a starting point in beginning the discussion to find solutions before an issue become chronic. We don’t expect managers to diagnose or treat, but to create a work environment where a problem can be safely talked about and how help, which is often available anyway either at work or through the NHS, can be accessed with absolutely no stigma. Benjamin Britten (1945), Peter Grimes, Act I.