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Berman Zhigalko5 min read

Zero suicide: International men’s day

Zero suicide: International men's day

Over the last few years, I have seen an increasing number of conversations around men’s mental health. Men remain on top of the world metaphorically speaking with only around 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs being women. So, is it surprising that this topic is getting recognition? Not at all if we look at some staggering statistics. In the UK alone 74% of all suicides involve men and globally, Grenada remains the only country in the world where female suicide rates surpass those of men.  

As someone who has faced mental health challenges throughout my life, shining a spotlight on this issue is a welcoming and heart-warming notion to me. However, in order to tackle this crisis, we need to discuss the underlying root causes in society that negatively affect men.  

In order to discuss these causes, I propose the following realistic and relatable scenario in the current economic climate:

A man is feeling down due to problems at work – he is recently at the risk of redundancy and may not be able to financially support his family. When he comes home, he does not want to talk about it to his partner as he does not want to burden them. Then, he goes to meet up with his friends at the pub but instead of talking about his concerns, once again he simply goes out late drinking, trying to keep the worries out of his head. 

Admittedly, this is a very simplistic scenario, illustrating a particular example. However, it reflects a few points which can put pressure on men’s mental health, regardless of their marital status or background.  

Lack of trusted support groups for men

The first important point to note in the above scenario is that a lot of men do not talk about their problems. According to research, up to 40% of men never talk to anyone about their mental health. The major push factor is the lack of trusted support groups in terms of friends. Several studies have shown that men are less likely to form intimate platonic bonds with one another, compared to women. For example, in the US, one in five single men do not have a “close friend”. The reason behind this is not just that men are less likely to form close friendships, but that vulnerability and compassion (key elements of close bonds) come harder to some men due to these traits not being viewed as “masculine traits”.

Traditionally masculine traits include “strength”, “emotional control” and “courage” – and these are expected of men, by other men. Often, we men won’t seek help from our male friends due to the fear that if we do, we’ll show an unacceptable feminine emotion, such as “sensitivity” or “compassion”. This, in turn, could give the impression of weakness in front of our friendship group, which many men would find more socially unacceptable than going through a mental health crisis.  

The fact is, we as men need to provide a psychologically safe environment for our male friends to express their emotions. An environment where people are comfortable being and expressing themselves without fear of repercussion or consequences. Having emotions or admitting to going through a hard time should not - and does not - take away from one’s masculinity. Men themselves can start taking steps towards a healthy definition of masculinity by expressing vulnerability to each other.  

Gender bias and its effect on men’s mental health

Another key element is that it may not just be friends that men are uncomfortable seeking help from, but their families and partners, too. Lam and Binder in their research suggest that the traditional expectation from society for men is to be the “breadwinners” and a lot of mixed-gender marriages are governed by these traditional gender norms to this day. This, in turn, puts pressure on men to be “the protector” of the family and may contribute to feelings of isolation in regard to sharing and managing their problems or mental health struggles. 

Research further supports the notion that men who take up all or most of the financial burden in the family face tougher wellbeing challenges. On the contrary, women who earn alongside men and take more of the financial burden in the family showed higher rates of wellbeing and life satisfaction. Discussing gender bias and traditional gender roles in the context of how it negatively impacts women is important, as it is crucial to call out male toxic behaviours that act as a barrier to women. Despite the importance of these conversations, they do not recognise how these factors also negatively affect men.  

This is a very light touch write-up of men’s mental health challenges, and it is important to note that everyone’s experience is individual. We can, and should, talk more about not just the heteronormative experience of men, but also the intersectional experience. An important take away here is the need for shift in discussion around gender bias and recognise how it affects us men as well.  

What can workplaces do?

Employee policies and processes are required to be fair and free of gender bias in order to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace. For example, Aviva introduced an equal parental leave policy for both men and women. This, in turn, aims to reduce gender bias by supporting women who do not wish to take a career break, supporting men who would like to spend more time with their child and supporting same-sex couples. In fact, the policy has been extremely successful with over 2,500 employees utilising it, around half of which were men. Findings also showed that average maternity leave decreased by two weeks, while average paternity leave increased by the same amount.  

A Deloitte survey suggested that, as recent as a few years ago, less than half of respondents felt that organisations supported men in taking paternity leave, with 57% of men assuming that taking leave would make them look less committed to their jobs. Equal parental leave practices and policies are designed to remove the barrier imposed by the gender bias on men and women – which in turn can have a positive effect on the overall wellbeing of employees.

Four top tips that could support men’s wellbeing in the workplace: 

  1. Use various communication channels, such as webinars, to inform and engage employees around men’s mental health issues. For example, Aviva hosted a webinar available to both their employees and the wider public.  
  2. Raise awareness of the signs of mental health crisis in men through toolkits, as well as train managers in spotting the early signs with their employees. An example of such a toolkit includes the Movember: Spot the Signs guide.  
  3. Create peer support groups for men around mental health and stress management in order to combat the stigma surrounding vulnerability and compassion. This can be done internally or through a third-party charity – for example Andy’s Man Club.  
  4. Provide DE&I training to all employees, including men and women, in order to raise awareness and help to mitigate gender bias in the workplace.

Berman Zhigalko

Berman is a consultant at FAIRER Consulting, a part of DE&I Advisory Services at Hays International. He is an experienced professional in diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as talent advisory. Currently, Berman supports various clients across the private sector and is exploring new ways to embed DE&I into various processes within organisations.