Should employers take a gendered approach to mental health?

Described in the media as a ‘silent epidemic’, mental illness among men continues to lack the appropriate awareness and action required for a crisis of such magnitude. With this in mind David Price, CEO of Health Assured, discusses whether employers should take a gendered approach to mental health

One-in-eight men in England suffers from a common mental health problem. That’s an alarming statistic – it’s certain that someone you know is suffering, possibly in silence.

There are a great deal of societal expectations placed upon men – how to act, how to behave, how to express emotion. The traditional idea of masculinity is that men should be the providers and breadwinners – that they are stoic, strong, dominant and in control – but not every man conforms to this, and it can be difficult to speak up.

Research has shown that, when men conform to traditional, masculine gender roles, the likelihood of seeking help wanes. It gets harder to admit that you’re feeling low, you develop bad coping habits and fall into a vicious cycle. This has severe effects; men are three times more vulnerable to taking their own lives than women. On top of this, they’re far less likely to seek help – it has been reported that 34% of men would be embarrassed to take time off for mental health reasons.

Be the change
It’s not hard to see that changes need to be made – but what can you do to help?

  1. Understanding
    First, you need to know what obstacles exist. The stigma around male mental health can be so great that men simply try to press on with their lives, often making matters far worse. Observe, talk and ask your people – find out how to remove as many obstacles as possible.
  2. Communication
    Men suffering from mental health issues can feel that their masculinity is threatened. Not all men feel like this, but for the ones that do, it’s a powerful discouragement. Work around this difficulty and communicate openly with men about issues – it’s the only way to break down those barriers.
  3. Positivity
    The world is changing rapidly and, for some, traditional masculine gender roles are seen as negative. Reinforce a ‘male-positive’ atmosphere. Share positive stories about successful male recovery from issues. Incorporate peer support – make the group culture male-positive and mental health aware.
  4. Objectives
    Men have a tendency to prefer solution-focused strategies when encountering problems – and it’s the same with mental health. Rather than a general process which looks toward an idea of positivity, set out clear goals. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a great for this – the setting of personal goals, and a clear roadmap to achieving them, feels good to the male mind.
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Using these tips, you should be able to reduce the stigma and clear some mental health issues for some of the men in your team.

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