Male mental health: Why we need to build a more open culture


Only 36% of mental health referrals come from men, so many miss out on support
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Data shows that men are less likely to access support for mental health issues, yet they are statistically more likely to take their own lives. What can organisations do to normalise conversations about mental health among their male workers? Donna Fearnley explains.

We’re all familiar with the shocking stats surrounding mental health, but how many of us know how it affects men specifically? Statistically, three times more men will take their own life than women, and suicide remains the biggest cause of death for men under 50.

One in six British workers will experience depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress at any one time – but men are a lot less likely to access psychological therapies than women. Only 36% of referrals are men, reflecting the fact that many end up suffering in silence.

Addressing this is one of the biggest challenges we face, not just in our personal lives, but in our workplaces, too. And in male-dominated industries such as automotive – where the culture is competitive and where the operating environment has historically been very challenging – normalising conversations around mental health can feel like an impossible task.

To tackle this, it’s important to reshape a business’ culture, moving away from old standards of a poor work-life balance and the need to power through with no thought for our health.

Organisations should take practical steps to create an inclusive, caring culture, that helps men to feel comfortable acknowledging and seeking support for any mental health concerns or issues. I’ve often found that it’s small changes that can have the most tangible impact.

Meaningful communications

Shaping a business’ culture relies on communication. It can be tempting to share updates with colleagues on a blanket basis, with the goal of consistently pushing a firm’s values and reinforcing the same key messages, but that’s not always appropriate or effective – especially when it comes to self-care and mental health.

Intentions aside, a one-size-fits-all approach to sensitive subjects may alienate some employees. Those experiencing poor mental health might identify with the principle, but not the delivery, and feel less inclined to come forward.

And those who aren’t experiencing any mental health conditions may feel it’s irrelevant to them, when actually it’s important that they can build awareness of the specific challenges others may be facing, so they can learn to accommodate these and spot any warning signs.

To encourage all employees to engage, it’s important to think carefully about each audience you’re targeting with updates and refine your comms accordingly, to ensure they have the desired effect.

During the first national lockdown this year, we recognised the importance of rationalising our approach to comms given the pressures our colleagues were facing – ‘nice to know’ details no longer made the cut, and every update was tailored to fit the particular needs of different employee groups.

We found that more succinct, less frequent updates delivered the best results, as colleagues were more inclined to take the time to read and digest them fully.

The personal touch

In addition, delivering information straight to team managers, and allowing them to cascade it down, helped ensure we were reaching every individual with personal interactions.
Managers are the people best placed to know their teams – empowering them to take control means they can share updates in a way they know will work.

Adopting this approach also helps to build more effective channels of communication within individual teams, which can normalise the idea of speaking openly and honestly – about any challenge, not just mental health – giving managers the opportunity to spot signs that a colleague may be in need of support.

Constantly assessing and refining this process is key. As we move into 2021, we will be implementing tools that allow us to collate and analyse feedback on the way our teams communicate, helping us to continually improve and build a strong, safe, collaborative and inclusive business culture.

A fresh perspective

Another key component of successful comms is the careful use of language and context.

If your audience is not naturally inclined to engage with mental health and wellbeing initiatives, subtly making a connection with issues they are passionate about helps to make it feel more relevant A good example is linking mental health with productivity and business success.

Discrediting the culture of ‘getting on with it’ that so often pervades male-dominated industries can dramatically improve employee wellbeing, which by extension instils a much healthier and more productive approach to work.

Demonstrating the practical, logical reasons why people would need help goes a long way towards breaking down the perception that struggles with mental health are signs of weakness – one of the biggest barriers to men reaching out when they’re in need.

Mind the gap

Businesses across every sector are grappling with the challenge of closing the gender gap.

It is not only critical in achieving equality of opportunity, but also has a role to play in a workforce’s mental health. Women are, on the whole, far better at having conversations about their mental health, and acknowledging that ‘it’s ok not to be ok’.

To implement this effectively, there must be universal buy-in and shared goals across every layer of an organisation, from the C-suite to HR and comms teams, and across every business division.

Engaging men with wellbeing programmes and encouraging them to properly recognise the importance of self-care means all activity and initiatives must be introduced with a clear purpose.

Slow and steady

Simply seeking to tick a box and pay lip service to the issue of employee wellbeing won’t achieve cut through. It won’t create the all-important workplace culture needed to encourage honest and open dialogue, helping men to address their mental health and seek support before it’s too late.

Take time to understand what programmes, policies and processes will suit your organisation and its people. Make sure you bring everyone with you on the change journey – gradually – ensure you assess the impacts and reflect on the changes you’ve made, and in time these efforts will naturally gather momentum and become part of the fabric of everyday working life.

Doing it this way makes it easier to introduce new initiatives further down the line – that may have been perceived as too bold earlier on – shifting the dial towards a culture of healthy working practices.

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