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Men’s mental health: don’t let your employees suffer in silence - HRM online

By Alan J. McDonald


Do you have a large male workforce? Then you need to keep informed about the impact that mental health is having on your employees, and understand the best way to help them.

More than five men die prematurely each hour in Australia due to potentially preventable conditions. One of the biggest causes is mental health and depression, with men three times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Men’s mental health week, that kicks off on 11 June, is an opportunity to focus on what HR can do around this issue.

Most men say that they would always be there for their mates, and yet the majority also say that they feel uncomfortable asking their mates for help – this is according to charity the Movember Foundation, which tackles some of the biggest health issues faced by men.

Men’s inhibitions around revealing perceived weakness or expressing their feelings is costing lives. It’s also very likely, if they are employed, to be manifesting itself while they are on the job.

What can HR do to cultivate a mentally healthy workplace for men in particular? And when they suspect someone is suffering in silence, what’s the next move?

Breaking down barriers

Andrew Jewell, principal lawyer at employment law firm McDonald Murholme, says that by creating a dialogue around mental health, “employers can ensure it’s not a taboo topic within the workplace. This is particularly necessary when it comes to men, who, as statistics suggest, are more reluctant to open up about their mental wellbeing.”

Jewell says that all employers should have a policy to support those suffering with mental illness, and that employees should be made aware of it.

“By having a process in place, it not only assists the employer in dealing with the matter appropriately, but also gives employees confidence in knowing that there is support, should they need it.”

Although employers should facilitate discussion around mental health, they cannot force anyone to participate, advises Jewell.

“An employee is not legally obliged to disclose any mental health issues they are having, and employers must respect privacy and anti-discrimination legislation such as the Fair Work Act 2009,”he says.

Leading the charge

If group or one-to-one conversations are difficult or just not going to work in your environment, here are three initiatives that are being applied elsewhere in Australia.

Mindmax appeals to any man into sport as the approach is to “train your mind like you do your body”. Led by the AFL Players Association, it’s a digital platform that uses sport, videogames and wellbeing science to connect Australian men aged 16 to 35, and encourages them to start conversations, share experiences and shift attitudes and behaviours to build fit minds.

With one in seven new fathers experiencing high levels of psychological distress after the birth of a baby, there is beyondblue’s Healthy Dads Initiative. It provides men with information, tools and support to recognise and act on their feelings of not being able to cope.

Well@work is another project that has been running since 2014, and is an e-health training program that provides Australian working men with a simple and engaging way to screen and monitor themselves for symptoms of, and risk factors for, anxiety and depression.

The NSW Police, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council and Dairy Australia are just three of the organisations who are trialling the linked e-health intervention. Via the app, it provides men with a personalised mental health action plan based on the results from self-assessment, and the option of a brief personalised psychological intervention that aims to address the most important risk factors and symptoms identified in each man’s personalised mental health plan.

For HR and other managers, it also offers an e-health training program to enhance mental health literacy, increase managers’ confidence and skills in discussing mental health matters, and provide tools for creating more mentally healthy workplaces.

The worst thing as a manager is to do nothing, according to Jewel. He suggests that employers use this week as an opportunity to air the conversation around mental health. It may be just the opportunity that someone needs to open up.

Reference: Men’s mental health: don’t let your employees suffer in silence, HRM Online, Friday 8th June 2018