Women are twice as likely as men to ask for help about mental ill health. This ‘male mental health gap’ is something employers can help with through targeted support, intervention and education, argues Brett Hill.
Women are twice as likely as their male colleagues to ask for help with emotional wellbeing, according to the latest research by Towergate Health & Protection.
At one level, of course, it is good that women are coming forward and asking for help when they feel they need it. But the figures for men are worrying, and something where occupational health professionals should be working with employers to raise awareness and thinking about ways of reaching this ‘hard to get’ audience more effectively.
While data shows that women are generally more likely to suffer from mental health conditions and are more likely to have suicidal thoughts, men are three times more likely to take their own life.
The factors behind why someone takes their own life are of course complex and are likely to vary from individual to individual. But the fact men are less likely to seek support may be one reason that, at the very least, is exacerbating this tragic trend.
Managing and supporting someone in mental crisis or feeling suicidal can be immensely challenging and probably will need expert, and urgent, ‘blue light’ intervention. Nevertheless, the fact we all spend so much time at work and the fact that, often, much of our identity, self-esteem and emotional health and wellbeing can be wrapped up in our work and careers means employers can have an important role to play here, often supported closely by OH.
Fewer men asking for help
Drilling down into our research, the latest figures from one of our employee assistance programme (EAP) providers has shown a significant variance in the numbers of men and women seeking support.
Over the last year, 56% of all calls to the EAP were made by women and only 29.5% by men (14.5% were unspecified).This is a long-standing pattern.
The majority of calls to the EAP helplines are regarding mental health issues, with anxiety and low mood being by far the most common reasons for seeking help.
Data from the Office for National Statistics also shows that women are more likely than men to experience some form of depression across all age groups. Women are also more likely to have suicidal thoughts; however, men are three times as likely as women to take their own life.
What should employers and occupational health therefore take away from this? Our figures clearly show that many more women seek support. The help and guidance needed is available and is already being accessed by women.
The challenge is: how can we make men more comfortable in asking for help when they need it?”
The task – and challenge – therefore is: how can we make men more comfortable in asking for help when they need it?
This is, we appreciate, a complex area. But there are also some fairly straightforward actions we’d recommend employers can take as a starting point. These include:
- Specifically target communications to men regarding mental health support
- Piggyback on national awareness days relevant to men, for example Movember next month, Father’s Day, and International Men’s Health Week in June. On this weekend, Sunday 10 October, it is also World Mental Health Day
- Create a workplace men’s forum and ask them what would encourage them to seek help
- Emphasise that help, especially via the EAP, is confidential
- Show (anonymised) case-studies of men that have accessed help
- Consider having a male champion (or champions) at work to encourage accessing help
- Consider having men at work talking about how they have accessed help
- Lead and model behaviours from the top.
The key message for us is that, while complex, this is very much a solvable issue, and one where employers can play an important and valuable role.
Many employers will already have the resources to offer support but those that do not should consider putting them in place.
Ultimately, this is all about making access visible, easy and, crucially, stigma-free.
Towergate Health & Protection analysis of figures from EAP usage report 1 September 2020 to 31 August 2021
‘Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain January to March 2021’, Office for National Statistics, May 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/januarytomarch2021
‘How common are mental health problems?, Mind, https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/