Masculinity and mental health

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, with suicide one of the highest causes of death for men under the age of 35. So, why is this the case? 

Picture what how society categorises masculinity:

  • Strength
  • Independence
  • Courage
  • Toughness
  • The breadwinner
  • A champion

These preconceived ideas on what it means to be a man have been cemented firmly in Australian culture. As a result, it is hardly surprising mental health problems are escalating in young Australian men especially in the workforce.

Ok, there is a problem – so what should I be looking for?

The difficulty is that everyone handles mental health differently. As an employer you should be looking for any signs that indicate that your employee is acting out of character.

These could potentially include:

  1. The employee’s productivity might be down, targets or outcomes which have been previously reached are off or have been missed;
  2. Morale seems different, usual workplace banter, chitchat or office presence is out of character or feels a tad off. This could include both a change in extraverted and introverted characteristics;
  3. The employee is arriving at work late;
  4. The employee has unexplained absences from work;
  5. The employee is showing a lack of interest in topics or activities that once created interest;
  6. The employee is disengaged; or
  7. The employee is not motivated.

For those employees you know well and have worked with frequently, trust your gut feeling –  if something feels off, follow your intuition.

Beyond Blue provides an anxiety and depression checklist (K10) which employees can complete. The checklist is completely confidential and can give employees a better sense of how they are feeling or how they have been feeling for the past four weeks. This tool may be useful as it has been proven that men often only recognise the physical symptoms in mental health.

What can we do?

As an employer you need to generate open conversation and communication around men and mental health. By doing this we can bring the topic of mental health to the forefront and help break down the taboo associated with mental health.

Employers should:

  1. Safeguard staff wellbeing by creating and implementing a mental health / health and welling policy and procedure;
  2. Appoint role models who show leadership and set a good example for others – it’s one thing to have the proper policies in place and another to have someone charging the way especially in male dominated industries; and
  3. Have a well-established mechanism for addressing mental health problems, for example internal or external support through a confidential employer assistant program.

Key lessons for employers – start a conversation

Employers must make it clear the worst possible thing to do when someone is feeling blue or out of place is to simply rock up to work and bear it – this is not a healthy, long-term solution.

Encourage senior leaders and role models to be accessible and to promote discussion on mental health. Don’t bear it, talk about it. Better yet, generate a workplace culture that promotes this.

September 13 marks national R U OK? Day in Australia. R U OK? is a suicide prevention charity working to ensure everyone feels connected and is protected from suicide. R U OK? promotes conversations around mental health by starting conversations that could potentially change a life:

  1. Ask R U OK?
  2. Listen
  3. Encourage Action
  4. Check in

The best way to develop a culture supportive of mental health is to get involved find out more at their website ruok.org.au.

If you or anyone you know needs help please contact:

  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
  • Suicide Call Back Service– 1300 659 467

Contact WCA – People & Culture Solutions if you require any assistance with your Culture, Human Resources and/ or Industrial Relations requirements on (08) 9383 3293 or via email us at admin@wcasolutions.com.

Article by Catherine James. This article was first published in Business News.