Understanding men’s mental health in the workplace

Men need support to open up about mental health at work

Statistically, men are more likely to take their own lives, yet they are less likely to seek support for mental health issues. Considering this, let’s delve into the data around men’s mental health and look at what organisations can do to create a more inclusive environment where men feel comfortable to speak out about their mental health.

Below are 11 facts that employers should know about men’s mental health:

Men’s mental health – the facts

  • One in eight men has a common mental health problem such as depression, OCD, anxiety, or panic disorder.
  • 60 men are lost to suicide each hour across the world.
  • Three times as many men as women die by suicide.
  • Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women.
  • Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women; only 36% of referrals to the NHS talking therapies are for men.
  • Nearly three-quarters of adults who go missing are men.
  • 87% of rough sleepers are men.
  • Men are nearly three times as likely as women to become dependent on alcohol.
  • Men are three times as likely to report frequent drug use.
  • 39% of men say they’ve had a disappointing reaction when they’ve shared things about their mental health in the past.
  • 63% of men said they would be most comfortable talking about their mental health over a drink.

The data paints a very worrying picture. In short, men are less likely to access mental health support and generally tend to ask for help far later than women. This is a concern, to say the least.

Understanding men’s mental health to provide better support

This partly stems from how boys have been treated from an early age. For instance, boys are often taught to internalise their issues and historically weren’t schooled in being open about their emotions. Men are often told to, ‘man up’ or made to feel weak because they are causing a fuss.

The toxic language attached to the mental health of men, for example, ‘crying like a girl’ and ‘grow a pair’ invalidates how an individual may be feeling and insinuates that it is a weakness if they cannot quickly and silently deal with their emotions.

These phrases can worm themselves into our belief systems and alter how we view and interpret the world for our entire lives. I cannot help but wonder how many of the men who took their lives did so because they felt they could not reach out for support and instead tried to accomplish something impossible like ‘manning up’ or ‘growing a pair’.

So, what can we do to help men open up about their mental health in the workplace? Below are some guidelines to support the mental health of our male co-workers at work all year long:

  1. Find the time to talk: Whether it’s sitting down in the pub or even next to each other on a long journey, find time to truly talk to one another. It’s fine to do activities with your male friends, but make sure you find the time to talk too. Face-to-face, conversations can often feel intense and intimidating and actually our new normal of video calls may well be beneficial to those men struggling to open up. If you are working remotely don’t get trapped in only getting in touch to talk about work, make time to catch up about how they are or what’s going on for them outside of work. You would have naturally found time in the office, stood around waiting for the kettle to boil or on the walk to the supermarket at lunch. It is so important to find this time again when working remotely, both for them and for you. The key is finding an environment that makes them feel comfortable to talk. Going for a walk or car journey can also be helpful. Once they do start to open up, let them, listen, and be there to support.
  2. Read between the lines: We don’t always say exactly how we are feeling, so often you will need to read between the lines when speaking to men about their mental health. For instance, 31% are more likely to say they are stressed and 30% that they are not feeling themselves. Whilst 35% of men said if they wanted to talk to a friend about their mental health, they would ask how their friend is doing and hope that friend would reciprocate the question. We’ve all done it; we say we’re fine when we’re not. To really find out, ask twice and don’t take ‘fine’ as your final answer.
  3. Know when to end the banter: It’s easy to misread a situation especially when everyone is throwing the banter around. But know how to spot when someone’s not in the mood or when they want to talk about something serious. If you notice something is different about your friend, or your jokes aren’t going down so well, ask them how they are doing and then ask again.
  4. Provide support: All your friend or colleague wants to hear is that you’re there for them and your feelings towards them will not change if they open up. You don’t have to try and give advice; they just need to know they are being listened to.
  5. Role model behaviours all year round: We should all look to use terminology that demonstrates compassion and care in our workplaces. It is essential to try to create an open dialogue and this will only happen when that person feels safe. Likewise, role modelling these behaviours amongst leaders, both with the language they use and by demonstrating that it is safe to be vulnerable, will help build a culture where men can open up. Afterall, no matter how high up a hierarchy we may be, we all still have mental health.
  6. Celebrate vulnerability: To tackle the inequality that exists with male mental health in the workplace, it is important that organisations ditch harmful standards of work-life balance and give men space to express how they are truly feeling. If you are a manager, then don’t be ashamed to speak up. By you coming forward, you may just help someone else.
  7. Refrain from toxic language: Be clear that ‘grow up’, ‘man up,’ ‘get a grip’ or ‘grow a pair’ are incredibly unhelpful phrases and can be damaging. Avoid them at all costs. We should all look to consciously change our approach to how we talk about male mental health. Irrelevant of gender, societal status, or identity, it is critical men are not made to feel ashamed to look after the health of their mind. Now’s the time to give men a voice, normalise conversations around mental health and take down the barriers that so often prevent men accessing life-saving support. And we all have our part to play in making that happen.
  8. Encourage professional support: Reaching out for support should be something that is praised. There is still a stigma linked to speaking to a professional (such as a doctor, therapist or counsellor) about our mental health, but why? We wouldn’t hesitate to seek professional support for a physical health concern, so why is our mental health treated any differently? Reaching out to a professional is a powerful and positive step and should be something to be proud of.

If you need support, want to help a friend or loved one, or want to learn more about men’s mental health, contact the below organisations:

If you’re ever worried that someone’s life is in immediate danger, call 999 or go directly to emergency services.


Lucie Ironman is a Psychological Wellbeing Facilitator at Vita Health Group.

In this article, you learned that:

  • Men are less likely to access mental health support and tend to ask for help far later than women.
  • Toxic language attached to the mental health of men including ‘crying like a girl’ and ‘grow a pair’ can invalidate feelings.
  • Leaders should be the models for kind and compassionate behaviour, including with the language they use to demonstrate that it’s safe to be vulnerable, which will help build a culture where men can open up.

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