Men’s mental health is beginning to receive the attention that it deserves. Thankfully, this has enabled us to develop a firmer grasp on the scope of these problems and how we can go about managing them. Despite these advances, the Coronavirus pandemic has sparked a range of further issues that we are yet to grapple with. It is important that executives and workplace leaders address these areas of growing concern for the sake of vulnerable men in their workplaces.
Male mental illness is a public health crisis.
People focus on the high suicide rate, which is three times worse for men than it is for women, as an insight into this emergency. As much as those numbers are soul-destroying, it hardly explains the extent of the problem.
According to the Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, the gender-based differences in mental health issues begin at a young age. Boys aged 4 to 17 are more likely than girls of the same age to experience mental disorders. Moreover, men are less likely than women to access public services and resources allocated for people in their position. Male stereotypes of stubbornness and self-reliance act as a barrier to seeking professional resolutions to inner turmoil. Most tragically, a man’s mental health problems more frequently manifest in a manner that harms the people around them when compared to women’s. A study from Professor Marianne Hester suggests men visiting their GP with symptoms of anxiety or depression are more likely to have carried out some form of behaviour linked to domestic violence.
These findings paint a more detailed picture of this mental health crisis. What makes these issues particularly devasting is not merely the fact they lead to more suicide. It is the fact that their arms reach across society as a whole, affecting men, women and children everywhere.
That is why we have to pay particularly close attention to the men around us in the midst of this pandemic. We do not know how people will respond to social isolation and the panic of the last few months. We must be vigilante. For all we know, our male colleagues could be struggling more than they ever have before.
According to Dr John Oliffe, the founder of UBC’s Men’s Health Research Program, the COVID-19 pandemic is unsettling because it tears us from our routine. People understand the world through set behaviours and patterns. When something hasn’t happened before, you try to fit it into a framework that makes it readily decipherable. We have no frameworks in which to process the pandemic. This can make us anxious and stressed. Oliffe says “for men who might not be working right now or are waiting to hear when they’ll be allowed to return to work,” this experience can be particularly distressing.
Moreover, we are being forced inside with family or roommates we might not be used to spending a lot of time with. Unfortunately, families can be toxic and erode our mental health. Work can be a refuge from that toxicity. Without it, our minds can be left vulnerable.
While these phenomena are not germane to men, it is important that executives and managers focus on how men respond to these situations, given the way these sorts of issues tend to impact men.
Executives and team leaders should heed Oliffe’s advice when it comes to guiding male employees through the pandemic. A lot of men suggest that they do not reach out for help because they are so used to being shut down. When someone says “how are you?”, they don’t feel as if the person is open to them saying “not well.” Therefore, we need to be approaching these conversations with the right attitude and manner. Don’t ask questions that can be swatted away with a ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘well, thanks.’ Be specific. Ask how they have been coping with their family or whether their sleep patterns have been maintained.
The ultimate lesson is this: Give your employees the freedom and confidence to confide in you.
Executives have been put in a situation without parallel. They are overseeing the welfare of themselves, their families, their organisations and their employees.
We know that men are particularly vulnerable. Everyone deserves our attention but, given how catastrophic men’s mental health has been in the past, we need to respect our duty of care.
We’re counting on executives to rise to the occasion.