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Blog / Workplace Wellbeing

November 17, 2022

“Manning Up” Doesn’t Work. Here’s How to Support Men’s Mental Health.

8 minute read

Workplace Wellbeing

Written by

Simon Goetz avatar

Simon Goetz

This is Part 6 of our Men’s Mental Health blog series.

How often do the male leaders at your organization talk about their anxiety, stress, or depression? If your company offers mental health days, how many of your male employees use them compared to female employees? 

Talking about men’s mental health is crucial for their overall health and happiness, and this doesn’t happen nearly enough. Instead, many men have been conditioned to power through difficult emotions like anxiety and depression because they think addressing them will interfere with their productivity. 

Their definition of success includes “manning up” and “toughing it out.” Unless they’ve had a male role model to show them how to navigate those heavier feelings, they often don’t feel equipped to deal with them. 

Instead of viewing anxiety, stress, and depression as part of the human experience, those emotions are viewed as interfering, and some men may experience shame for feeling them. And this shame perpetuates their natural inclination to keep quiet and make sure no one knows how they’re actually feeling. 

The danger of powering through

Global research from the non-profit organization Movember finds that 48% of men define being manly as being strong, both physically and emotionally, and 32% feel pressure to be manly or masculine. This number increases to 47% for men ages 18-34. 

Additionally, 58% of men think society expects them to be emotionally strong and not show weakness, and 38% don’t talk about their feelings to avoid appearing unmanly. 

A study by the Priory Group found that men are more reluctant then women to seek help for mental issues. While 77% of men surveyed in the UK had experienced anxiety, depression, and/or stress, 40% still wouldn’t talk to anyone about their mental health. Some men were “too embarrassed,” while others felt like there was still a “negative stigma” around seeking help.

When men bottle up their feelings, a negative cycle begins that impacts both mental and physical health. The longer they wait to address them, the harder it is to pull out of those emotions, and shame starts coming up, which exacerbates how they’re feeling. If they have a history of anxiety and depression, those emotions may intensify and turn into prolonged mental health challenges. 

“Powering through” emotions can also increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive issues, and diabetes. Anger or rage is a common outcome, which can lead to relationship troubles, putting the wrong foot forward at work, and distancing themselves from their support system instead of leaning into it. 

Also, when men aren’t talking about their feelings, it’s far too easy for them to feel isolated and believe they’re the only person dealing with something like this. 

Anxiety is often under diagnosed in men

Anxiety disorders affect one in five people. Men are less likely to seek treatment and be diagnosed—and when left untreated, an anxiety disorder can quickly go from disruptive to debilitating. 

Correctly naming a heavy emotion can diminish its power, and this requires expanding our language around how we feel. If a male employee thinks he’s feeling nervous or stressed when it’s actually anxiety, he won’t have the right tools to manage those feelings. 

Emotions are more easily confused when you’re overwhelmed because they can be mixed, conflicted, and hard to name. 

The Feelings Wheel can help anyone who is having trouble finding the right words. Accurately naming how you’re feeling can help you problem-solve like you would any other challenge in your life.

Read this blog to learn what workplace anxiety is and how you can help employees manage it. 

More than 30% of men experience depression

More than 30% of men experience depression—which means that a third of your male employees may be dealing with this—but many never seek help. The symptoms of depression look different for men, and leaders and coworkers don’t always recognize the signs. 

Men may feel angry or “on edge,” experience digestive problems, or engage in high-risk or escapist activities. Other symptoms of depression include:  

  • Irritability
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Abusive behavior
  • Experiencing aches and pains or headaches
  • Using alcohol and/or drugs more frequently
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Sleeping too much or too little

Offer specific resources to your People leaders and employees to help identify the signs of depression. This can make it easier to see through someone’s behavior to the root cause and offer the support they need. 

Men are more likely to self-harm 

The stigma surrounding therapy and asking for help can lead to unhealthy behaviors for men, and those behaviors can lead to tragic outcomes. Men only make up 49% of the world’s population, but they account for 80% of suicides. 

While the stigma around seeking help is prevalent among all men, it is highest in Black, Latino, LGBTQIA, and other marginalized communities, putting those men at a higher risk.

Behavior that could indicate suicidal thoughts:

  • Withdrawing from friends
  • Feeling trapped or helpless 
  • Taking more risks than usual
  • Dramatic personality changes
  • Intense mood swings
  • Being self-destructive
  • Talking about suicide or hinting at it
  • Unhealthy changes to their normal routine
  • Sudden changes to the quality of their work
  • Excessive absences
  • Giving away their possessions 

If an employee exhibits any of this behavior, it doesn’t mean they’re having suicidal thoughts. But if a person is showing multiple warning signs, use these questions to gather more information:

  • I’m concerned about you. How have you been doing?
  • How long have you been feeling like this?
  • Something seems to be bothering you. Would you like to talk about it?
  • Have you spoken to anyone about this before?

Suicide is preventable, but because men are less likely to reach out and more likely to bottle up their feelings, symptoms often increase, which makes them feel even more isolated and like there is no other way out. 

It’s critical to start talking about suicide at work, despite how uncomfortable these conversations may feel at first. If you determine that an employee may be considering suicide, trust your gut and instinct to get help. Dial 988 for the National Suicide Lifeline. A trained counselor can help you determine what to do next and provide resources. 

If your company is partnered with Spring Health, you can call our 24/7 clinical crisis support phone line (1-855-629-0554; option 2). Our master’s level clinicians monitor and answer this dedicated line.

4 ways to help male employees improve their mental health

Mental health impacts every area of a person’s life, including how they show up at work. Depression and anxiety can directly affect an employee’s:

  • Focus, engagement, motivation, productivity, and output
  • Stress and burnout
  • Worker disposition and morale
  • Risk of addiction (as a coping mechanism)

So how can People teams encourage men to prioritize, talk about, and address their mental health? Follow these four steps.

1. Encourage male leaders to be role models 

The men in leadership roles at your organization have the power to normalize conversations about mental health and show that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. In general, they can do a lot to help male employees know they don’t need to be ashamed when they’re feeling stressed or anxious. 

Male leaders can start talking about what they’re doing for their stress management, and model taking a mental health day or ending the work day early when needed. Framing these as normal behaviors will open the door to male employees following suit. 

As we’ve already discussed, words matter, and when leaders name emotions like anxiety and depression, it can help reduce the stigma and encourage talking about them in the workplace—while also helping your male employees realize they’re not alone.  

Creating a dedicated Slack channel for men is one way to give male employees a safe space to talk about their feelings. 

2. Encourage small acts of self-care during the workday

Men don’t often engage in self-care, and yet taking time to breathe, walk, or even get a snack during the day is vitally important. Male employees need to know that it’s okay to take 10 minutes for a mental health break. 

Share effective breathing practices, resources on mindfulness, and the benefits of simply walking in nature or in urban environments

If you offer Spring Health to your employees, remind them about Moments—our library of exercises that equips employees with on-demand tools for emotional wellbeing. These online exercises address a wide range of topics, from managing anxiety, combating depression, and tackling eating issues to building relationships, improving sleep, and recovering from burnout. 

3. Help employees identify potential mental health conditions

Male employees may be curious about mental health issues and decline to ask questions or seek help. Consider placing confidential self-screening materials for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and risk of self-harm in common areas throughout the workplace.

Spring Health’s clinically-validated assessment screens for over 12 different clinical issues and helps us quickly diagnose different mental health conditions or needs, including depression and anxiety. A personalized plan is then generated to ensure the employee receives the care they actually need.

4. Encourage therapy

Therapy is proven to reduce stress and feelings of isolation, increase happiness and wellbeing, and includes numerous other benefits. Studies show that therapy can be as or more effective than medication for a wide variety of mental health conditions. 

A meta-analysis of 475 studies also found that psychotherapy improves psychological wellbeing, regardless of someone’s age, their diagnosis, or the type of therapy. Another review concluded that 75% of people who engage in therapy see a benefit.  

Therapy is effective because it’s a safe and confidential place for men to work through challenges with someone who isn’t tied to their personal or professional life. 

Read this powerful story about a General Mills employee who tried therapy for the first time through Spring Health, and was surprised when it helped him work through his anxiety. 

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About the Author

Simon Goetz avatar

Simon Goetz

Simon Goetz lives in Oakland, California with his dog, Chicken. Together, they perform as the experimental noise act, Bite the Hand. Pitchfork called their debut EP, Grrrrr, "unlistenable".