How to support male mental health in the workplace | Connor Broadley

INDUSTRY NEWS | 10th September 2021

How to support male mental health in the workplace

By Charlie Pitt

Employee Wellbeing

4 Min Read

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The last few years have seen a welcome cultural shift when it comes to men speaking more openly about mental health issues. Figures like Prince Harry and Prince William have shared candid stories of their own struggles, while former Love Island contestant Dr. Alex George has campaigned for better mental health provision.

But the tragic price of the ongoing stigma that still sadly surrounds mental health is laid bare by the statistics around male suicide, which World Suicide Prevention Day is a reminder of.

Men are three to four times more likely to die by suicide than women in the UK. An average of 12 men in Britain take their own life every day, and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, while men aged 45-49 years are most at risk.

In 2019, the suicide rate for men in England and Wales hit a 20-year high, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Since then, the pandemic has had a huge emotional and psychological toll. Perhaps surprisingly, early figures show suicide rates have not increased over the pandemic, however, the Samaritans said that coronavirus was exacerbating factors known to be related to suicide, from financial woes to relationship breakdowns.

The pandemic has also undoubtedly led to people feeling under more pressure in the workplace. A recent survey on resilience at work found that male employees under the age of 24 were the most likely cohort to feel that they were not coping at work or in everyday life.

Yet despite the stresses of the pandemic, a poll of 2,000 workers by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England taken earlier this year revealed that a quarter of employees had had no well-being check-ins from their employers since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

From a legal point of view, employers have a duty to ensure the health of their workers under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974). They must also consider making reasonable adjustments for employees with a mental health issue, which can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010. However, a rising number of employees – 30% of workers in 2020, up from 27% the previous year – will not disclose their mental health issues at work.

So, what more can employers do to support the mental health of employees, particularly men, in the workplace?

When it comes to specific actions, a report commissioned by the Government in 2017, called Thriving At Work, provides a helpful guide. It sets out a series of mental health core standards that all workplaces are recommended to adopt, including implementing a mental health at work plan, developing awareness by making information accessible, and encouraging open conversations.

The latter is particularly important given that one of the possible explanations for the higher rate of suicide among middle-aged men provided by the ONS is that this group is “less inclined to seek help”. Promoting awareness days, such as World Suicide Prevention Day, internally in a workplace can be an important way to spark discussion and help foster a culture of openness around the topic.

Meanwhile, research has found that having mental health first aid trained employees helps raise people’s confidence in dealing with issues while helping to reduce stigma. There is no legal requirement to have mental health first aiders at work, but St John Ambulance – which provides training courses – recommends employers have as many first aiders for mental health as they do for physical health.

Employers should also make sure that all the benefits they offer concerning mental health support, whether it be private medical insurance or Employee Assistance Programmes, are promoted, and that reminders are sent out on a regular basis. Staff will not make the most of schemes if they don’t know they exist, and research by St John Ambulance – which found that 80% of employees were not sure if their company had a mental health wellbeing policy – shows many businesses could focus more on communication.

Simple steps can also be made to highlight free support available, such as from the Samaritans or the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK.

Some further resources for employees include:

  1. Three-hour online training sessions provided by ACAS on how to manage employee mental health
  2. A free guide for line managers provided by MIND on how to introduce Wellness Action Plans to their team members

To find out more about how your company can support male mental health in the workplace, talk to our friendly team.

If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this piece, contact the Samaritans for free on 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org, or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

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