Addressing Men's Mental Health in the Workplace

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Cast your mind back a few months, to summer 2023. The Barbie movie had just hit theatres, prompting a wave of think pieces and accusations – it was ‘anti-men’, it was ‘too woke’, ‘too feminist’. Pundits burned dolls on YouTube. The backlash was predictable.

But we’re not here to relitigate the culture war surrounding the film. It is simply interesting to note the latest high-profile occasion in which the battle lines were too cleanly drawn. The cultural debate around these issues often flattens the surrounding context, keen to pit men on one side and women on the other.

Men are told that they are complicit in the way that Patriarchal society harms women. Which is certainly true but elides the greater truth that the Patriarchy can be damaging to men as well. Or instead, men are told that the Patriarchy is a fantasy of men-hating feminists who want to emasculate little boys and destroy western society.

There’s often very little room for nuance.

Spend 5 minutes on YouTube or the platform formerly known as Twitter and you’ll easily stumble upon the many influencers, grifters, or commentators whose reactionary response to any discussion of feminism or the Patriarchy is to tell men to be ‘real men’; to stand up straight, clean their rooms, and never ever show any emotion.

The flip side to this, of course, is the pop-feminism that dominates the other side of the discourse does not offer a huge amount of space for men to talk openly about their own problems and struggles. Too often, the response can be ‘well, if you think that’s bad, try being a woman’.

And again, that is an understandable perspective, but it’s not a totally fair one. Too often, it means the only people talking about men’s issues are those like Andrew Tate or Ben Shapiro. People who have no interest in helping men, and who only seek to dominate the conversation and profit from the status-quo.

And where does that leave men? Well, honestly, not in a very good spot. 77% of suicides are by men. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. Men are less likely to seek psychological help – only 36% of NHS referrals to therapies are for men.

These are deeply troubling statistics that need to be addressed. Unfortunately, solving society’s myriad problems is slightly beyond the scope of this blog (not that we haven’t tried before) but we can look at how organisations can address these issues in the workplace.

But before we can do that, let’s have an honest discussion around how the Patriarchy does indeed harm men.

How the Patriarchy Damages Men

Throughout her work, the late feminist scholar bell hooks emphasised the way that the patriarchy negatively impacts both men and women.

“To indoctrinate boys into the rules of the patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and deny their feelings”

In her writing, hooks advocates for breaking free from these harmful gender norms and fostering healthier, more equitable relationships between men and women. She encouraged men to challenge patriarchy and embrace a more authentic and compassionate version of masculinity that allows for emotional expression, empathy, and genuine connections with others.

In doing so, hooks believed that men could liberate themselves from the damaging effects of patriarchal expectations and contribute to a more just and equitable society for all people.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The concept of how the patriarchy harms men is a complex and nuanced one. Of course, there are many ways in which patriarchal society benefits men. But it’s important to note that not all men easily fit within the rigid demands and normative behaviours that the Patriarchy dictates. Not all men experience these negative consequences, but let’s look at some of the ways that it is actively harmful to the male experience:

Emotional Repression:

The patriarchy often enforces rigid gender norms that discourage men from expressing vulnerability or emotions other than anger. Men may feel pressure to suppress feelings of sadness, fear, or insecurity, leading to emotional repression and the inability to address their mental health needs.

Toxic Masculinity:

This is a term that is in danger of losing all meaning as its tossed around carelessly, but traditional patriarchal values often emphasise dominance, control, and the suppression of ‘feminine’ traits. Men may feel compelled to conform to these norms, leading to behaviours associated with toxic masculinity, such as aggression, extreme competitiveness, and emotional detachment.

Limited Expressiveness:

The patriarchy can restrict men’s ability to express themselves fully, both emotionally and creatively. This limitation can hinder personal growth, self-expression, and the development of meaningful relationships.

Gender Stereotypes:

Stereotypes perpetuated by the patriarchy can limit men’s choices and opportunities in terms of careers, hobbies, and personal interests. Men may feel pressured to conform to certain roles, such as being the primary breadwinner or avoiding traditionally ‘feminine’ activities.

Impact on Relationships:

Traditional patriarchal values can affect men’s ability to form healthy, equitable relationships with others. Communication issues, power imbalances, and difficulties in expressing emotions can strain personal and professional relationships.

Reduced Life Expectancy:

In some cases, the pursuit of traditional masculine ideals, such as risk-taking and physical toughness, can contribute to men engaging in behaviours that result in higher injury rates and reduced life expectancy.

Mental Health Consequences:

All of the above contribute to significant mental health consequences for men. The emotional repression and pressure to conform to societal norms can contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Men may be less likely to seek help for these issues due to the stigma associated with mental health and the expectation to ‘tough it out.’

It’s important to recognise that these harmful effects of the patriarchy on men are intertwined with broader issues related to gender inequality and discrimination. Many individuals and organisations are working to challenge these harmful norms, promote gender equity, and create a more inclusive and supportive society for everyone, regardless of gender.

So, how can we deal with this in the workplace?

Addressing Men’s Mental Health at Work

The workplace has long been associated with productivity, achievement, and professional growth. But these are all ideas that are inevitably intertwined with the issues discussed above.

In a society that often expects men to be stoic and unemotional, the pressures to produce, achieve, and be successful can weigh heavily. These expectations can become a trap that actively hinder men’s ability to succeed.

The Hidden Struggle: Why Men’s Mental Health Matters

Societal Expectations:

Men are often raised with the notion that expressing vulnerability is a sign of weakness. These societal expectations can lead to suppressed emotions and reluctance to seek help, even when facing mental health challenges.

Work-Related Stress:

The modern workplace can be intense, with tight deadlines, high expectations, and long hours. This environment can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression, affecting men’s mental well-being, with few avenues for men to understand how to healthily cope with these stresses.

Stigma and Silence:

The stigma surrounding mental health issues can be especially potent for men. Fearing judgment or professional repercussions, many men suffer in silence, hesitant to discuss their struggles with colleagues or supervisors.

Impact on Productivity:

Untreated mental health issues can have a profound impact on workplace performance. Men may find it challenging to concentrate, meet deadlines, or collaborate effectively when dealing with mental health challenges.

Creating a Supportive Workplace

Employers play a crucial role in creating a workplace where men feel comfortable addressing their mental health needs. Here are some steps companies can take:

Promote Open Conversations:

Encourage dialogue about mental health. Create a culture where employees feel safe discussing their challenges without fear of judgment.

Mental Health Resources:

Provide access to mental health resources and support, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) or counselling services. Ensure that employees know about these resources and how to access them.

Training and Awareness:

Conduct mental health awareness training for managers and employees. Equip them with the knowledge to recognize signs of distress and offer appropriate support.

Flexible Work Arrangements:

Consider offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, to reduce stress and support work-life balance.

Reducing Stigma:

Implement anti-stigma campaigns to normalise discussions around mental health. Use internal communications and events to raise awareness.

Supporting Male Employees

Employers should be aware that men may have unique challenges when it comes to mental health. Here are some ways to specifically support male employees:

Normalise Seeking Help:

Emphasise that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Highlight stories of successful men who have sought mental health support.

Leadership Role Models:

Encourage male leaders in your organisation to share their own mental health journeys. This can inspire other men to seek help when needed.

Work-Life Balance:

Promote a healthy work-life balance, which can be particularly important for men who may feel societal pressure to prioritize work over personal well-being.

Mental Health Days:

Consider offering mental health days as part of your leave policy, allowing employees to take time off when they need it for mental health reasons.

The Bottom Line

Addressing men’s mental health in the workplace is not just a matter of compassion; it’s also a strategic imperative.

Obviously, a mentally healthy workforce is a more engaged, productive, and loyal one. But, by breaking the silence surrounding men’s mental health, employers can create a workplace where everyone feels valued, supported, and empowered to seek help when needed. Where everyone feels safe to express themselves.

There were many who cheered the cathartic experience of seeing the Barbie movie challenge and mock the Patriarchy on the big screen. But it’s impact on women is not the full story. There has been a shadow hanging over men for equally long. It has claimed enough victims. Nobody should have to suffer silently in the workplace.