Men at Work – How effective is your approach to supporting the mental health needs of men?

By guest contributor: Dr Dave Anthony, with Luke Foster and Dave Burroughs as the Co-Founders of Mantle.

If there is a silver lining amid the challenges of the last two years, it is the increased spotlight on mental health, increased appreciation of the role of work when it comes to wellbeing and the recognition that none of us get immunity from the challenges of navigating the inevitable ups and downs of life. 

With so much attention on mental health, many organisations are investing more than ever in initiatives, programs, speakers, apps, and campaigns to try to support the mental health of their people. There seems to be a never-ending procession of new options for leaders to choose from, accompanied by some grandiose claims alluding to the effectiveness of these new options. However, it might pay to step back and check the validity of some of the claims being made.

Dramatic headlines and inflated statistics are a great way to sell a product, but if you scratch the surface on some of the marketing and take a closer look at the research and theoretical frameworks that underpin what is being promoted, you might have cause for concern or certainly feel less encouraged. For many providers, words like evidence-based, evidence-informed and ‘clinically proven’ are bandied around with little or no regard for what they actually mean. Popularity isn’t a proxy for effectiveness and very few initiatives and activities being promoted actually help to address the organisational barriers to improved mental health or effectively deal with the mental health needs of different cohorts.

There has been a lot of commentary around the gendered impacts that the challenges of the last two years have had on our workforce. Yes, the data paints a picture that suggests a lot of women have been disproportionally impacted by the erosion of work-life boundaries and the excessive demands of having to home school, co-work, and co-parent because of our hybrid ways of working. But that doesn’t mean men have not been impacted too.

Some of the emerging research highlights that men reported higher rates of depressive symptoms during 2020, and men’s engagement with professional mental health services were at a higher rate than women (compared to the previous year) for family and relationship issues (1). Keep in mind the impact of things like job uncertainty and job loss on the still prevalent male psyche as ‘the provider’, and that men usually have fewer friendships that offer close social connections and people in which they can confide (2). In September 2021, the ABS reported a decrease in the suicide rates across the population (for both men & women) over the previous 12 months here in Australia, which is testament to the financial and crisis support initiatives that were put in place, but sadly there was an increase in alcohol-related injuries and deaths. Although we can’t make a clear link between the two from the data available, we know that men often display increased risk-taking behaviour, such as increased alcohol and substance use, when experiencing depression (3).  

Taking a closer look at the men’s workplace mental health landscape, we are seeing a definite increase in awareness sessions, events surrounding Men’s Health Week and International Men’s Day and some new, innovative organisations creating men’s employee networks. All of this is a step in the right direction, but what else is being done? To what extent have you checked whether your existing psychological support services are fit for purpose when it comes to different cohorts across your organisation?

As a starting point, take a look at the proportion of men in your organisation that are accessing the likes of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? An overreliance on traditional EAPs can be problematic as it can create a tertiary cycle of despair when the focus is the reduction of symptoms without addressing the psychosocial factors that are contributing to distress. It takes specialist knowledge and experience in workplace mental health and psychosocial systems to be able to help understand, unpack and then influence the organisational barriers impacting mental health and performance. We would argue this isn’t a common capability set among many of the practitioners and program providers working in organisational support domains.

Research tells us that when it comes to engaging with men, adopting a gendered lens is critical (4). How well do those entrusted by your organisation to support your people understand this – noting that men’s mental health issues can manifest differently than for women, and situational stressors can have a disproportionate impact on men? Emerging research is quite clear that traditional support services are not the best fit for most men if we want to provide meaningful and effective support options (5).

The reported drop-out rates amongst men from therapeutic activities, as outlined in some recent research are sitting at 44.8% (6); this refers to early exits from therapy, with a low likelihood of re-engaging with other support options in the future (7). What is the experience of the men in your organisation when they engage with mental health support services? What are retention rates like? And how many of them proactively return to similar services when they need support in the future?

Getting more granular, what if we look at this through an executive lens, for both men and women? Leadership has never been more difficult than in our current turbulent world where people are more time-poor, under more pressure and facing immense uncertainty. What specialist supports do you have in place for your leaders and do they get used? How experienced are your external support personnel, how much understanding do they have regarding the psychological cost of leadership, the pressure of creating shareholder value, the angst of major decisions while shouldering the responsibility for those who report to them? Again, the expertise and experience required to support those in executive roles is not a common capability amongst many mental health and wellbeing providers. 

At Mantle, we fully support those organisations that are committed to addressing psychosocial risk, redesigning work and equipping people to meet the changing demands of work, as this is critical in the prevention of work-related mental health concerns. We also fully support those organisations that are willing to ask the tough questions and look at systems and support through a gendered and cohort-specific lens. We know that no one gets immunity from the stressors and strains of life, and we recognize that the demands upon those in the workplace have been creeping up for some time. We applaud those organisations that get involved in men’s health awareness campaigns and activities, and who have support programs that target men. However, we encourage all organisations to take a more rigorous approach to workplace mental health and offer even more targeted and evidence-informed approaches that are truly fit for purpose.

Mantle’s team of senior psychologists have an enviable amount of expertise in men’s and executive mental health both within and outside of the workplace, in executive coaching, as well as clinical and performance services. Our team is uniquely placed to help, not just in workplaces and industries consisting mainly of men, but across all organisations. We can help your people, not just by reducing their symptoms of distress, but by understanding and influencing the underlying contributing factors to break the tertiary cycle. With minimal wait times, a range of support and strategic services, and bandwidth beyond traditional work hours, we have been specifically designed to address many of the limitations of traditional mental health support services.

For a sneak peek of our Q&A Blockbuster with Dave, see below!

For more insights into Mens Health, don’t miss our recent chat with Ben Hughes, Co-Founder, The Men’s Table, Dr Dave Anthony, CEO & Co-Founder, Mantle and Peter Gould, Manager – Workplace Health and Safety, Local Government Work Care as part of our exclusive The Hub Q&A Blockbuster here. 

Not a member of The Hub? No problem! Find out more about how to join Australasia’s first knowledge centre for workplace wellness here.

Dr Dave Anthony, CEO & Co-Founder, Mantle.

Dave is an endorsed psychologist with over 17 years’ experience across a range of environments, including corporate, sport, defence, and government sectors. He works closely with a range of organisations to provide specialist psychological advice on current best practice, and the practical application of the current theoretical trends. With his experiences in a range of male dominated environments, one of Dave’s underlying passions is changing the way Men do Mental Health and improving their quality of life.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-dave-anthony-3829ab49/

Web:  https://mantlehealth.com.au/

1.    Ellison, J. M., Semlow, A. R., Jaeger, E. C., & Griffth, D. M. (2021). COVID-19 and MENtal Health: Addressing Men’s Mental Health Needs in the Digital World. American Journal of Men’s Health. https://doi.org/10.1177/15579883211030021

2.    McKenzie, S. K., Collings, S., Jenkin, G., River, J. (2018). Masculinity, social connectedness, and mental health: Men’s diverse patterns of practice. American Journal of Men’s Health, 12, 1247–1261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557988318772732

3.    Martin, L. A., Neighbors, H. W., Griffith, D. M. (2013). The experience of symptoms of depression in men vs women: Analysis of the national comorbidity survey replication. JAMA Psychiatry, 70, 1100–1106. http://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1985

4.    Seidler ZE, Wilson MJ, Walton CC, Fisher K, Oliffe JL, Kealy D, et al. (2021). Australian men’s initial pathways into mental health services. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 00, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1002/hpja.524

5.    Pederson, E. L., & Vogel, D. L. (2007). Male gender role conflict and willingness to seek counseling: Testing a mediation model on college aged men. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54, 373–384. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-0167.54.4.373

6.    Seidler, Z. E., Wilson, M. J., Kealy, D., Oliffe, J. L., Ogrodniczuk, J. S., & Rice, S. M. (2021). Men’s Dropout From Mental Health Services: Results From a Survey of Australian Men Across the Life Span. American Journal of Men’s Health. https://doi.org/10.1177/15579883211014776

7.    River J. (2019). Diverse and dynamic interactions: a model of suicidal men’s help seeking as it relates to health services. American Journal of Men’s Health, 12, 150–9.