Men and mental health issues: What are the challenges?

mental health issues
Bianca Healey


written on November 8, 2016

Greens senator Scott Ludlam announced last week that he’s taking leave to treat depression and anxiety. Here’s why HR needs to take men’s mental health issues seriously. 

Movember: The global movement tackling men’s mental health issues launches its annual moustache-growing fundraising initiative this month, providing a timely reminder for HR to re-evaluate their company’s approach to mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Another event that should trigger a call to action is Friday’s announcement by Western Australia senator Scott Ludlam that he would be taking a leave of absence to focus on treating his depression and anxiety. This kind of public statement about mental health at work was once a rare occurrence, but it showcases the increasing willingness of public figures to discuss mental health struggles openly, particularly men in the public eye. and it’s a trend that should remind HR of the significant barriers to open discussion about men’s mental health.

As Ludlam’s news spread across social media, Australians in politics and beyond voiced both their support and respect for the senator’s honesty and openness about dealing with mental illness. “This happens across workplaces every day. Great to see Scott Ludlow be so open about #mentalillness” posted Jaelea Skehan, a mental health advocate.

Mental health advocacy group Beyondblue estimates that just under half of Australians will struggle with mental health issues in their lifetime. It’s a conversation where often, the struggles of the men in our communities are given less airtime. That is one of the many reasons that November’s focus on men’s health is so important; it’s an opportunity to give voice to the ways we can bring men’s struggles with mental illness into the spotlight — and continue the work of people such as Ludlam to destigmatise openly sharing their experiences.

According to the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) men commit suicide at a rate three times higher than women, accounting for nearly 80 per cent of suicides in Australia. And recent data from employee assistance programs provider AccessEAP shows 33 per cent of Australian men list anxiety as their top personal issue, followed by 23 per cent listing depression.

Though Australian employees have multiple support services at their disposal, such as up to 10 sessions a year with a psychiatrist referred by your GP, as well as organisations such as Lifeline, Black Dog Institute and Beyondblue that provide crisis counselling and resources are available to all Australians. However, they are all underfunded to meet Australia’s mental health needs.

Scott Ludlam is one of a number of high profile Australian men speaking out about their mental health issues in recent months – and they’re examples of positive workplace process. Another is Sydney Swans player Buddy Franklin, who was given time off by his club for mental health related conditions. The club’s open discussion of his condition, supporting his recovery, and reinforcing his recovery as the top priority showcases constructive behaviour to both businesses and individuals.

Along with friends, family and the community at large, professional opinion and recent cases show that the way workplaces treat mental illness can also have a significant impact for both sufferers of mental illness and the business’s bottom line.

Last year, for example, one of the UK’s leading human resources professionals Jabbar Sardar wrote an article compelling HR to take on mental health in the workplace in a more meaningful way.

“HR has a significant role in building a company’s understanding of mental health, and in earning the confidence of its workforce to feel comfortable disclosing conditions they have been diagnosed with,’’ says Sardar.

His argument? HR, with its unparalleled access to both employees and management, should take initiative to build a company’s understanding of mental wellbeing, as well as earning the confidence of its workforce to feel comfortable in disclosing mental health issues.

“Transparent cultures that encourage equitable treatment must be developed within our businesses. These should allow staff to discuss any problems without fear of negative consequences,” he explains.

And for any HR professional facing opposition, there are compelling arguments for the correlation between mental health and financial health: research by PwC has shown that every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy workplace will have an average return on investment of $2.30. And don’t forget the 6 million working days lost in Australia each year as a result of untreated depression.

Workplaces must continue to approach mental illness holistically, considering the implications from their employee’s health down through to the company’s bottom line. Examples such as that of Ludlam, Franklin and the organisations that support them demonstrate best practice for every workplace.

Thinking about disclosing a mental health condition at your workplace? Read this article provided by Headsup first.

Have you developed constructive approaches to mental health in your workplace? Share them in the comments section below.

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2 thoughts on “Men and mental health issues: What are the challenges?

  1. Sometimes there is danger in verbally labelling an issue which then becomes a reality in one’s mind – I am speaking from personal experience or am I being too harsh and unsympathetic?

    1. I understand what you are saying, Clara. I think any ‘roll-out’ of a mental health plan needs to include a strategy to deal with the real possibility of being inundated with employees concerned about their mental health. The real danger is not starting the conversation and allowing employees to explore their mental health concerns or issues. From experience, the aftermath of a suicide in the workplace is heart-breaking.

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