Men in the UK are disproportionately affected by mental ill health, yet are not given the resources or support that resonates with them, a new report out today argues.
Men’s mental health and work: The case for a gendered approach to policy by the Work Foundation says an estimated 4.3 per cent of all men show signs of illicit drug dependency compared to just 1.9 per cent of women.
Suicide rates for men also far outnumbers those for women in the UK, with 76 per cent of all suicides in 2014 being losses of life to men. It also notes that men are still more likely to do physically dangerous work, with sectors such as construction reporting among the highest rates of suicide rates for men according to latest ONS data for England and Wales.
But it says employers should choose the language used to engage men with mental health carefully for interventions to be successful and to potentially prevent outcomes like suicide. "For example, mental health issues can be discussed using the term ‘stress’. It does not carry the same connotations as ‘mental ill health’, ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’, which could alienate a male audience."
It says Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and occupational health (OH) services for example typically tackle anxiety and depression, but these are the mental health issues that men often ignore and, as a result, are reluctant to seek help with. “These services should be communicated to male workforces in a manner that will resonate with them,” it says.
It argues instead for phrasing that is about creating ‘parity of esteem’ with mental and physical health.
“Mental health should not necessarily be distinguished from physical health but treated as just one dimension of health and wellbeing,” it says.
Royal Mail’s ‘Feeling First Class’ initiative is a good case study. “Rather than specifically focusing on mental health, it is treated as a constituent part of an overarching, holistic, health and well-being programme. This helps ‘normalise’ mental health, reducing the stigma associated with it,” it says.
‘Mates in Mind’, primarily focused on the construction industry, is also cited as a good initiative aimed at promoting men’s health through de-stigmatisation.
The Work Foundation also calls on the government to ‘re-brand mental health services in ways that resonate’ with men, using ‘more accessible and less alienating terminology’.
Targeted health campaigns in predominantly male settings (e.g. male-dominated workplaces, public houses, sports grounds, betting shops, etc.) should also be prioritized.
The report makes the point that although suicide predominantly is by men, little is known of the causes: “As we have outlined, suicide disproportionately affects men more than women in the UK. However, the reasons why this the case are not fully understood.”
Government should therefore fund research into the causes of suicide in men: “Men’s relative reluctance to seek help, combined with their increased likelihood of undertaking risky behaviours and propensity for suicide, should shape and inform policy.”
The government appointed the UK’s first suicide prevention minister in October. Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price has been tasked with overseeing the government’s plan to reduce suicides in England by 10 per cent by 2021. The government has pledged to spend £25 million to help achieve this goal.
In 2017, 6,213 people took their lives in the UK and republic of Ireland. Of these, 4,694 were men, 1,519 were women. The suicide rate is highest amongst men aged 45-59 years old (Office for National Statistics 2015).
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