Male mental ill-health – how to remove the workplace stigma

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I recently visited beautiful Forster, on the NSW mid-north coast. Having grown up in Taree it is an area I am quite familiar with. I caught up with a friend who shared that he had lost 2 friends to suicide in the last month. This is a town of just 14,000.

It is tragic that many men are not seeking help when they are feeling so hopeless

Recent Australian research has found that mental ill-health remains high among Australian men. Up to 25% experienced a diagnosed mental health disorder in their lifetime and 15% experienced a disorder in any 12-month period.

While over 80% of men with depression, anxiety and/or any suicidality in the past year had seen a General Practitioner (GP), only around 40% had seen a mental health professional.

To help address this we need to tap into employee stories of men successfully seeking help. I have observed the impact of this in workplace sessions many times.

Some examples where men have been vulnerable at work with a real positive impact include:

  • Deputy Secretary, Department of Treasury – In the lead up to R U OK? Day, this senior leader shared how he had reached out to others in the past year and asked R U OK? He then shared that he had some personal challenges in the last year and really appreciated that colleagues had asked him R U OK? He even shared that someone had noticed he wasn’t eating lunch regularly and started buying it for him.
  • Managing Director of 6000 employee company – shared with his senior leadership team that he had once been homeless and living in a car when a previous marriage broke down. You could see the room change as he told that story.
  • Coach of the Richmond Tigers, Damien Hardwick, shared his hardships, highlights, and heroes (HHHs) with the team. This simple exercise which every player followed, led to an increase in trust and respect. It is credited with helping them go from 12th position in 2016 to winning the premiership in 2017.
  • The CEO of a mining supply company – when he launched a workplace mental health initiative, he shared how he had been to 3 funerals where someone he knew had taken their own life. He said they were the saddest funerals he had ever gone to. He could not help wondering if it would have made a difference if someone had asked them R U OK? He went on to say he would do anything to help prevent a suicide now.

When someone shares their story, it gives others permission to share theirs. Men acknowledging their mental health struggles helps to break down stigma and encourages help seeking.

I have generally found that employees who want to share their struggles, have overcome their setbacks and are now experiencing positive wellbeing. If they want to test the waters, I would recommend telling one person at work they trust.

With men accounting for 75% of suicides, urgently addressing this situation is paramount.

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