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BHWA & Men’s Health Forum call on employers to help bulldoze stigma surrounding ‘stress’ taboo

Employees are embarrassed to talk about their mental health conditions at work

Men’s Health Week has returned (13-19 June) and this year aims to lessen the stigma surrounding stress and mental health in general among men.

  • Both practice and research confirm that men are less likely to admit to feeling stressed or engage in talk therapies for mental health
  • Research has shown that there are typically far more men in full-time employment than women
  • Reaching out to men through the workplace provides a key opportunity to combat stress and other mental health stigmas.

The Men’s Health Forum and Better Health at Work Alliance both firmly agree upon the importance of tackling the taboo of stress in the male population and the important role that employers can play in prevention and support.

This year, one in four will develop a mental health problem and many of these are caused by stress. In fact, a third of working men feel constantly stressed and under pressure. Though stress is a normal part of life, not dealing with it properly can have serious repercussions. Absence from work for stress, anxiety, or depression has increased 29% in three years, which shows how the issue can affect employers up and down the country. Employers should lead from the front to lessen the stigma by creating environments with the right support and signposting for help.

To take a typical stereotype, middle-aged men face a number of pressures from family, work and societal expectations. Their futures are looming and their pasts fading. All of this can lead to significant stress. Despite these stressors, the Men’s Health Forum knows from research – and the BHWA’s frontline healthcare members confirm in practice – that men are far less likely to engage with talk therapies for mental health.

Instead, damaging coping methods like smoking, comfort eating, drinking alcohol and taking drugs are often linked to stress and these too have clear knock-on ramifications for health while also affecting an employees’ performance at work.

Employers who have channels set up to support their employees in times of stress such as counselling or advice-based services can certainly help to improve the problem, but it is essential that the benefits of using these services are widely broadcast among staff. The taboo culture with mental health in men in particular sees group risk insured benefits used more widely for physical treatment, for instance, than for counselling benefits that can frequently be overlooked.

Other measures employers should consider include mental health first aid training for staff members, awareness days, occupational health triage and encouraging men to share worries and concerns with friends and family. Employers can also now signpost to a new stress service being launched by the MHF.

Beatstress.uk is a new online mental health support service open to all but targeted at men in their middle years. A beatstress.uk chat service is open on Wednesdays from 7pm to 10pm, with the email service available 24 hours a day offering a 48-hour turnaround.

Director of the BHWA Charlotte Cross comments: “Workplaces are key here. They can have such an impact on stress and can be the linchpin in either direction, with great potential to both cause stressors and/or alleviate them. Employers should never stop striving to reduce stress to ensure the wellbeing of their employees and their businesses.

“Stress is an issue for so many people and often exists beneath the surface. By encouraging people to talk about their issues and raising awareness during Men’s Health Week, we can help more people feel they are not alone and also help promote coping methods that help them deal with the stressful times in their lives.”

Chief Executive of the Men’s Health Forum Martin Tod adds: “One in three working men feel constantly stressed and under pressure. One in 10 feel severely or extremely stressed. And for too many men things can get really bad because they don’t ask for help and don’t talk about it.

“Employers have to take a lead – by tackling the stigma and offering the right support. 39% think their employer would think badly of them if they took time off work for a mental health concern – and men with poor mental health are even more likely to think this. That’s just not acceptable.”