Mental Health Awareness Week: Man Up?

Monica Lochrie

Men. They’re every bit as likely to experience financial pressure, stress at work, relationship issues, body image worries and mental health issues. So why is it, when I read about mental health programmes or “wellbeing treat boxes”, these are all geared towards women?

Sure, women have mental health issues, too. But they are far more likely to open up to a friend about them. Over the centuries, we have built up this mythical version of a stoic, emotionless male who wouldn’t dream of shedding a tear over anything other than his favourite football team winning a league title.

Men aren’t supposed to cry. They’re not supposed to let their emotions get the better of them. They’re not supposed to talk to their mates about their feelings. These are all female traits, right?

Perhaps, that’s why, in Scotland approximately 19 males in every 100,000 will take their own life. The same figure for females is approximately 7.

So why – as workplaces – are we not gearing our efforts towards the group of people who are clearly most vulnerable in this situation? If you are a HR Manager in an Engineering firm full of 200 males, for example, how are you encouraging open and honest conversations about mental health? Because not everyone will be coming to work with a clear head.

In fact, in Scotland, 1 in 4 adults will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. Think about your workplace – how many people are potentially covering up a serious issue through shame or stigma? Because we know how to accommodate someone if they have a broken leg. We ensure they don’t have to take the stairs or do any heavy lifting; we help them out to the car with any paperwork they might need.

And yet, if a colleague or an employee came to you with a mental health issue that was impacting their day to day, would you know how to react?

I have heard people say, over the years, “They need to learn to leave all that at the door,” or “Your work is no place for the dramatics.” All of this formulates a negative narrative around mental health discussion. We don’t need to put a brave face on it. Workplaces should be safe places.

The world of work can be a stressful one. Our phones light up at all hours with emails; we feel the pressures of monthly targets; we feel like we should be networking or attending events. But all of this can be really difficult if you’re also shouldering the burden of financial pressures, relationship issues or body image worries.

Especially if you’re supposed to be one of these really manly figures who only cries motor oil.

Within the HR function, we need to train our colleagues to be mental health “first aiders”. We need to be aware of how to treat mental health issues with the respect and sensitivity they deserve. That doesn’t mean tip-toeing around someone, that means offering tangible advice and practical help. We need to know – as colleagues, as managers and as people – how to spot the signs and open up that conversation and shed the stigma.

Otherwise, that figure of 19 could become something much, much worse.

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