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Paul Barrett

Bank Workers Charity

Head of Wellbeing

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Men’s Health Week 2014 – Is there a role for business to tackle men’s mental health?


This is men’s health week. Many people question why there is a need to focus specifically on men’s health….surely health is important to everyone?

It’s because men are known to monitor their health much less than women and they’re also less inclined to seek help when they need it, usually in the hope the problem will go away. As a result they’re more likely to suffer serious or long term health issues. Across a whole range of health conditions including cardiovascular problems, 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. Men’s reluctance to monitor their health and to seek timely help, adds to the ongoing pressures on the health care system and creates a significant burden to business through increased sickness absence and levels of presenteeism.

“Mental health problems.”

What is true for general health concerns is truer still for common mental health problems like stress or depression. The cultural expectations that make men feel they always need to be strong combined with the stigma attached to having mental health problems acts for many men, as a powerful disincentive to seeking help.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) say that they have seen an upturn in the numbers of men accessing counselling services and this may be down to a shifting perception in relation to gender roles. Whilst this is a positive development the numbers coming forward are still low compared to women. More characteristic is the finding of research commissioned by BACP that men were twice as likely to agree with the statement that “it is indulgent to seek counselling or psychotherapy if you don’t have a serious problem”.

The modern workplace isn’t always an environment where it is easy to seek help and yet it can be a high pressure environment that has a direct impact on psychological wellbeing. ONS data shows that a much greater proportion of men than women work full time, so workload pressures can bear down on them particularly heavily. As the economy recovers London and the South East are booming but many parts of the country remain in recession.

Meanwhile the continuing trends in insecure employment contracts, the rise of self-employment and salary lag mean that the wider economic environment continues to feel uncertain.

The insecurity this engenders can make it harder for employees to feel safe talking about their mental health issues, feeling rightly or wrongly that it may count against them.

The role of business

In the light of this, what can businesses to do create an internal environment that encourages male employees to seek help when they experience mental health problems? One thing would be to make information publically available about sources of help within and outside the organisation. Businesses frequently purchase the services of EAPs but they are often used much less than they could be, especially by men. Many offer the option of online or telephone counselling. Both are important channels of access that can be attractive to men who may feel uncomfortable discussing their problems face-to-face. However, they do need to be well publicised. To be truly effective the EAP needs to be part of the organisational furniture which it too often isn’t, but regular promotions can make it so.

Line managers

Another approach which can have a major impact is to provide line managers with training to enable them to understand and better support people 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 the organisational culture, making it easier for men experiencing anxiety or depression to come forward, talk about their problems and obtain the help they need. At the Bank Workers Charity we are currently developing such training, to be offered across the banking sector and we’re confident that it will make a big difference.

The organisational climate with regard to mental health problems is another key factor in determining whether or not men feel able to seek help and there are good signs that things are changing for the better. 200 organisations have signed up to the MIND/Rethink Mental Health campaign “Time to Change”. Lots of businesses, including some in the banking sector, which our charity supports, have made tackling the stigma of mental health in the workplace a strategic priority. With top level support there is greater potential to transform the way mental health issues are dealt with at work.

Some organisations actively encourage employees to become mental health champions. These are people who have experienced mental health problems themselves and are working within the organisation to change the culture and to make themselves available 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.

Structure and processes

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 balance are in place  and  offering gym membership  are positive measures. All help to create the resilience that can make the difference between someone struggling with mental health problems, feeling strong enough to remain in work instead of going off sick.

In recent years we’ve had a number of cases of prominent male figures from the financial sector admitting to suffering from stress and the world of sport has also thrown up similar cases, with Jonathan Trott being only the most recent.  If this willingness to discuss mental health does represent a turning point then, it’s very welcome. It is really important that men seek help when their problems are at an early stage and anything that organisations can do to facilitate this can only be positive.

The Bank Workers Charity website has a range of information on mental health, including guides on managing stress, understanding depression and looking after your wellbeing

Author Profile Picture
Paul Barrett

Head of Wellbeing

Read more from Paul Barrett

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