Work-related mental health problems have been significantly under reported in the past. Workers generally, both men and women, do not want to share their feelings in relation to work believing that it will disadvantage them in career advancement. However, women seem more adept at seeking help for most of the health problems, including mental health, than men. This is possibly at least in part related to women’s positive attitudes to seeking advice across a range of health issues. For example, mammograms, cervical smears, contraception advice and pregnancy are just some positive examples of how women across the generations seek medical advice. This makes seeing the doctor for stress related problems more natural. There are no such reasons for men. They will tens to seek outlets elsewhere – most of them unhealthy, substance misuse being a particular problem. Other maladaptive responses such as exercise may seem on the face of it healthy but can become obsessive and unhealthy. The main theme is of avoidance of talking about it.
Other problems include the attitude that only by working ever increasing hours can you demonstrate your worth at work. One particular problem is being always available. Men are seen at the beach, in the restaurant and in the street looking at their phones, answering emails, responding to work-related social media posts rather than interacting with their children or simply relaxing. Doing nothing on holiday can’t be recommended too highly! If you have to be available try to keep it limited to one hour each day. At other times leave your phone behind. Do you really need to check Facebook, look at the news and all the other reasons (excuses) we use to justify constantly looking at our phones?
Men seem to invest a sometimes unhealthy degree of importance in their careers and seem less adept at maintaining a work/life balance. Cultural factors are clearly in play with men often seeing their careers as the only way of obtaining validation in their lives. It is likely that this is gradually changing but it is also likely to take a further period before men see work as of equal value as their lives outside of work. For instance, women still do 70% of the unpaid work outside work- childcare, cooking and household chores. Men do of course put out the bins!
There are clearly generational attitudes. Young people seem to view work differently to the older generation. Travel, career breaks and other interests are gradually taking increased precedence. Young people seem resigned to having to work for longer in their lives and are more likely to take breaks or change careers more than once. Therefore the imbalance between the sexes in relation to work-related mental health is likely to change slowly over the next generation or two.
Changing attitudes particularly with people being more open about their mental health are likely to have an effect upon the attitude of work towards the mental health of employees. Resilience training and focus upon “soft skills” are achieving greater importance. This is also likely to be related to the improvement in the status of women in the workplace. Well rounded individuals are sought out by employers as people who will be able to bring to the organisation a range of skills, not just the technical ones. Try to beef up those outside interests on your CV!
Mental Health is on the public’s agenda more now than at any other time in my career going back some 40 years. With sufficient investment both by the NHS and employers there is a real opportunity now to change attitudes towards mental health problems in the workplace and for men in particular.
Dr John Wilkins, Consultant Psychiatrist is commenting after reading http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40872978
Cardinal Clinic are working to help change attitudes toward mental health in the workplace. We are proud to be joint sponsors with IOD Berkshire of the Thames Valley Business Awards new category Workplace Mental Health Award. If your company can demonstrate good practice why not enter? You can download an entry form http://businessawards.co.uk/business-awards-categories/