Men are still too often ‘hard to reach’ when it comes to opening up about their mental health and accessing help and support. Psychotherapist Jacky Gerald discusses the findings of a recent study and four steps employers can take to improve male take-up of mental health support services.
This month, November, is also ‘Movember’, when men’s health issues, both male cancers but also male mental health, wellbeing and, tragically, male suicide, are very much at the forefront of the health and wellbeing conversation.
When you think about it, it is staggering that HR continues to berate the fact that roughly (anecdotally at least) two-thirds of counselling benefits are taken up by women and still only a third by men.
I am a psychotherapist and have been supporting employees for more than four decades in the UK and Australia.
I am sad to say that, from my perspective, the situation – of men being ‘hard to reach’ when it comes to mental health and, too often, unprepared to access help even when it is available – has changed very little worldwide.
Male suicide continues to be alarmingly high, particularly among working-age men, and this is a problem that has been brought into even sharper relief of course by the experience of the past two years.
A few years ago I was invited to work alongside employee assistance programme provider Acacia Connection EAP in Australia to look at ways to encourage greater uptake of its services by men.
Male mental health
As part of this, I linked up with Sydney University to undertake a qualitative study, interviewing men in blue- and white-collar industries that offered access to EAP services.
Given the limited research available worldwide of EAP uptake by men, I decided to ask my participants, firstly, why they thought this might be the case and, secondly, what they thought might encourage men to do so.
The results were, to me anyway, shocking, as I know how much money is spent by employers providing EAPs, not to mention the time and effort spent on marketing them.
Alarmingly, the majority of the 44 men I spoke to had no idea what the letters ‘EAP’ even stood for. Those who did said they thought the service would only be for colleagues who had a ‘mental illness’.
Alarmingly, the majority I spoke to had no idea what the letters ‘EAP’ even stood for. Those who did thought it would only be for colleagues who had a ‘mental illness’.”
They had no idea that it was OK to call to speak to a counsellor because they felt sad, stressed, worried about a child, confused about sexuality, bereft, bullied, paranoid, angry, frightened, unable to sleep properly, having intrusive thoughts, eating too much or too little, using recreational drugs to excess, breaking up with a partner, unable to communicate effectively at work or at home, lonely, and so on. When I explained this to them, most expressed astonishment.
Not one of them had their organisation’s EAP contact details to hand and most said they wouldn’t have been able to find it easily even if they wanted to call out of hours or when they were away from the office.
Virtually none of the men in my research were convinced that, if they used the EAP service, the information would remain confidential. As a result, they feared coming forward would somehow become a black mark on their career and promotional prospects.
Four ways to encourage men to use an EAP
More positively, in relation to my question on what would encourage them to use a service like an EAP going forward, they came up with four practical steps that occupational health practitioners should consider recommending to their HR colleagues to put in place.
- Make your EAP contact details readily available for all employees on their mobile phones. Send this to them on day one of their employment.
- Ensure there is mandatory training in the function and use of their EAP, repeated every 12 months for all employees and emphasising and incentivising usage.
- Reinforcement of confidentiality message; that an EAP is a genuinely confidential service.
- Identify senior managers as wellbeing or mental health champions, people who are prepared to talk about their own experiences, role-model best behaviours and give ‘permission’ to others (men and women) to open up about their mental health and wellbeing.
This small-scale qualitative study can be read in full here. I would also be happy to be contacted by OHW+ members who want to discuss these issues in more detail or just find out more about the research. My contact details are below.