Overcoming the challenges facing men’s mental health
Why don’t men look after their health better than they do? Do they think they’re going to live forever or that ill-health isn’t going to affect them?
Men’s propensity, and all the research suggest it’s a learned one, is to look after their health less effectively and seek help less frequently than women. As a result, they’re more likely to suffer serious or long-term health issues. Across a whole range of conditions, men experience health problems earlier than women and with graver consequences. This has obvious implications for the individuals affected, but it also has wider social and economic consequences, adding to the ongoing pressures on the health care system and creating a significant burden to business through increased sickness absence and levels of presenteeism.
But things are starting to change. Campaigns like Movember are slowly changing the landscape of men’s health, helping to break the taboo and normalise speaking up about health concerns. Movember began a hirsute revolution when it challenged men to grow moustaches during November to raise money for prostate and testicular cancer and – vitally – to talk about their health issues and seek help when they need it.
Combatting the ‘man up’ culture
However, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to men’s mental health. When you combine the cultural expectations that make men feel the need to ‘man up’ with the stigma attached to having a mental health issue, you get a powerful disincentive to seek help. In an Opinion Leader survey carried out this year for the Men’s Health Forum, whilst the majority of men said that they would take time off work to get medical help for serious physical symptoms such as blood in stools or urine, unexpected lumps or chest pain, fewer than one in five said they would do the same for anxiety (19%) or feeling low (15%).
The modern workplace isn’t always somewhere it’s easy to seek help, and yet it can be a high-pressure environment that has a direct impact on mental wellbeing. The banking industry, especially, has seen great turmoil of late that has left employees facing flattening hierarchies, heavier workloads and regulatory upheaval. In fact, levels of stress in the banking industry have pushed up demand for insurance to protect revenues against the cost of staff sick leave, reports Reuters. According to global insurer MetLife UK, the average uptake of group income protection insurance policies is 12-13% across UK businesses. In the banking industry, it’s closer to 100%.
The insecurity of a stressful working environment can make it harder still for employees to feel safe talking about their mental health issues, feeling rightly or wrongly that it may count against them. So what can businesses do to create an environment that encourages help-seeking behaviour in male employees?
Four ways to promote men’s mental health:
- Rearrange the organisational furniture
‘We all get stressed. The question is: what do you do about it?’ This is the theme of Men’s Health Week (13-19 June), encouraging men to open up about stress and seek help before they feel overwhelmed. One way to help employees do this is to provide information about sources of help within and outside your organisation. With roughly half of the UK workforce having access to an employee assistance programme (EAP), there is often help available within the workplace. Many of these programmes offer online or telephone counselling; both channels that can be attractive to men who may feel uncomfortable discussing their problems face-to-face. Unfortunately, with average use standing at around 10% of the workforce, and falling to as low as 2% in some organisations, these are often used much less frequently than they should be – by all staff, not just male employees. These programmes need be part of the organisational furniture and be well publicised to be truly effective. Promote your assistance programme regularly and you’ll establish it as another valuable resource that your employees feel comfortable using as they need it.
- Educate your line managers
Another approach which can have a major impact is to provide your line managers with training to enable them to understand and better support employees with mental health problems. Managers often feel uncomfortable discussing mental health issues, and training can give them the confidence to manage such conversations with tact and sensitivity. In the long run this can change organisational culture, making it easier for men experiencing high levels of stress to come forward, talk about their problems and obtain the help they need. At the Bank Workers Charity we conducted a year-long line manager training pilot in partnership with Mind. The CIPD-evaluated programme is teaching managers in four UK banks how to support staff who are struggling with mental health issues. Even at the six-month stage the results have been very positive with 94% of the managers feeling more confident in managing mental health situations at work (up from 57% pre-training). The positive impact was also reflected in the day-to-day experience of the line managers’ team members, many of whom found the workplace less stressful, experienced higher levels of job satisfaction and found it easier to raise mental health issues at work.
- Embrace a changing climate around mental health
The organisational climate around mental health is another key factor in determining whether or not men feel able to seek help, and there are signs that things are changing for the better. More than 400 organisations have signed the Mind/Rethink Mental Health Time to Change employer pledge, and some businesses actively encourage employees to become mental health champions. These are often people who have experienced mental health problems themselves and are working within the organisation to change the culture and to support colleagues who are struggling. It can be particularly helpful when they are senior managers as this sends out an encouraging signal to the rest of the workforce that speaking out needn’t be a career-damaging move.
- Build structures and processes for wellbeing
Finally, it’s important to have structures and facilities in place that build employees’ health and wellbeing. Encouraging employees to take lunch breaks, having healthy eating options available, ensuring good policies on work-life integration are in place and offering gym membership are positive measures. All help to create the resilience that can make the difference between someone who is struggling with a mental health issue feeling strong enough to seek help and remain in work instead of going off sick.
It is really important that men feel able to seek help when their problems are at an early stage, make sure your organisation is helping them do just this.