Men have traditionally been viewed as the breadwinners; the ones considered to be best equipped to navigate the challenges and competition of the workplace. But a new survey by Mind has revealed that work is the biggest cause of mental health problems for men.
Some 200,000 men a year report feeling stressed, anxious or depressed because of work, which accounts for 1.2% of men in work. But in a survey by Men’s Health Forum, 34% of men said they felt constantly stressed or under pressure. Men are less likely to ask for help with their mental health issues (particularly at work) because they may feel embarrassed or ashamed, perhaps because they feel that they are not meeting society’s demand for them to look and be strong and reliable. In the survey of 15,000 employees across the UK by the mental health charity Mind, one in three men (32%) blamed their work for causing mental health problems, compared to one in five women (19%).
The survey also found that men were less likely than women to look for help for their mental health problems or speak openly with colleagues about the problems they were suffering. Men were also less likely to take time off work to help them deal with poor mental health issues.
Untreated and unrecognised, mental illness can have devastating efects among men. Three-in-four people who commit suicide are men, and it is the biggest cause of death for men aged below 35.
Defining mental illness
Mental health issues include a wide range of conditions. Some of the more common ones include:
- Stress (feeling under so much emotional or mental pressure that it is difficult to cope). Symptoms include low energy levels, muscle tension or pain, and sleep problems.
- Anxiety (feelings of unease, fear or worry which can be mild or severe). Symptoms include panic attacks, headaches and insomnia.
- Depression (more than just feeling unhappy or upset, depression is about long-term feelings of unhappiness or hopelessness). Symptoms include a lack of energy or interest in the outside world, sleeplessness, and aches and pains.
- OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) (characterised by intrusive thoughts, like worrying about dirt and germs, and repetitive actions, like washing and cleaning).
- Eating disorders (such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating).
Mental health and men
The Men’s Health Forum survey also revealed that men feared the reaction of their managers if they showed any weakness. They felt that their managers would look on them less favourably if they told them they had a mental health problem. Also, while most men would take time off work for an injury or flu, fewer would take time off for mental health reasons.
Furthermore, there is evidence that men are more likely to self-medicate using alcohol or illegal drugs in order to overcome the symptoms of a mental health problem. For example, men are almost three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men compared to 3.3% of women).
Supporting men’s mental health in the workplace
Mental health issues can affect any individual indiscriminately, regardless of age or status, and many employers are becoming more understanding of the importance of reducing the dangers of stress, overwork and tight deadlines. Stress and mental health issues are a major cause of sickness absence, which can cause significant problems for organisations so it is important to take steps to support employees and prevent problems from escalating:
- Encourage staff to talk. It is fairly common for men to avoid talking about their emotional lives yet we all have mental health in the same way as we all have physical health. Managers should be trained to spot the signs of mental ill health and support staff with their wellbeing (for example by reviewing workloads, creating an open and supportive team ethos, and providing opportunities to talk in confidence). Talking can aid good mental health and help avoid small problems from becoming major obstacles.
- Highlight the importance of work/life balance. Encourage staff to finish work on time, take breaks and use all their holiday entitlement in increments throughout the year.
- Show flexibility when supporting staff experiencing mental health issues. Look at practical ways to help them by making changes to their workloads or working hours.
- Offer activities outside the workplace. Organising team-building, sporting or social events for staff can be good for morale.
Support from Fit for Work
Support and guidance about work and health can be sought from Fit for Work, which offers free, online work-related health advice and guidance to anyone looking for advice and support about an existing case of sickness absence, or about issues that may result in sickness absence. Employed people who have been off work due to illness for four weeks or more can be referred for a telephone assessment with a Fit for Work case manager in order to identify all the obstacles preventing the person from returning to work. The Fit for Work case manager can also provide recommendations about how the obstacles can be addressed and to potentially enable an early return to work. Visit the Fit for Work website or call the free telephone advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh). There is a separate service running in Scotland (0800 019 2211).