As COVID-19 takes its toll on the mental health of employees, workplaces must look to provide support
Businesses have an important role to play in helping Australia face the mental health impacts of COVID-19. With many facing depression, anxiety, social isolation and stress, the workplace can, for some, become a source of connection and purpose; especially for those most at risk – men.
On average, one in eight men experiences depression and one in five faces anxieties at some stage in their life1. This can lead to devastating results, with men accounting for six out of eight suicides on average each day in Australia2. Men’s Health Week on 15th – 21st June is a timely opportunity to put a focus on men and encourage them to talk and ask for help as part of a wider effort to help all Australians.
The economic impact of COVID-19 has heightened many men’s anxiety around securing income and the weight of responsibility for protecting family members with 62.1% of men expressing anxiety during the pandemic3. Some men may be unable to work from home, and therefore may feel at risk of contracting the virus at work4, while others may be feeling isolated and miss the social connection offices provide.
Preliminary modelling by University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, shows that, following COVID-19, cases may rise to 750 additional suicides a year5 in the next five years. With people beginning to head back to work, there is more responsibility on workplace leaders to help manage the mental wellbeing of their staff.
“Men are often stereotyped in pop culture into unrealistic images of masculinity that discourage them from getting help, says Marcela Slepica, Clinical Services Director, AccessEAP. “This can be very detrimental and workplaces should help debunk these myths by talking about mental health and acknowledging that it is normal to have feelings of sadness or anxiety especially during these times of uncertainty. Raising awareness about mental health and suicide prevention through education and listening to people’s personal stories,” Marcela continues.
Some men who suffer with mental health problems feel societal stigma is often what prevents them from opening up as they believe this makes them vulnerable and may impact on their careers and relationships. They do not want to be perceived as not coping or as weak. This “bottling up” of emotions can lead to increased use of drugs and alcohol, risk taking behaviour and social isolation6. Over time, these activities negatively influence self-esteem and confidence and under certain conditions can lead to suicide5.
“Organisations need to have procedures in place to manage mental health in the workplace and aim towards eliminating the fear of disclosure,” says Marcela. “Leaders and supervisors often feel ill-equipped to have conversations with team members about potential mental health concerns, so it’s important to provide training,” adds Marcela.
One simple tactic for businesses is to encourage people to establish circles of support. It may be surprising that many people, particularly men, don’t have anyone they can talk to7. A Circle of Support doesn’t have to be large but could include family, friends or colleagues who provide friendship and support to a person who needs it8. Many organisations are introducing peer support in their workplaces where peer support people receive training and learn how to have conversations about mental help and how to offer support and help. “This approach can benefit all involved by sharing reciprocated strength, it also lessens the taboo of discussing more difficult topics like mental health,” says Marcela.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) such as AccessEAP, are also a valuable resource that businesses can utilise to offer independent, confidential support for their teams. “It is important to face stigma as a team and encourage people to speak up.” Adds Marcela. “Men, in particular, need to feel safe and feel that it is ok to reach out for assistance when facing stress, difficult emotions or worries. AccessEAP trains individuals on developing coping strategies, ways of thinking to help work through tough times. These are life skills that can be learned and used when needed,” she adds.
AccessEAP also offers toolbox talks aimed specifically at men. These sessions focus on increasing awareness of mental health issues and challenging preconceptions about seeking help.
The positive impact on participants can be immediate. AccessEAP has already provided tailored toolbox talks to organisations in the manufacturing, mining and construction industries. “Often at the beginning of a session, we struggle to get men to talk but by the end, they can be reluctant to leave and I’ve witnessed large scale discussion amongst participants about issues that may be affecting them in their personal or work life long after the session has ended. The toolbox talks are not only helping men to reach out for help, but also showing them that their organisation values their wellbeing,” says Marcela.
If you would like more information on how to support men’s mental health, please visit accesseap.com.auAbout AccessEAP
AccessEAP is a leading Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider in Australia. We have been assisting companies across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia since 1989 in supporting a mentally healthy workplace. As an Australian owned not-for-profit provider, surplus profits are directed into programs to assist children at risk in the community through direct donation and via The Curran Access Children’s Foundation.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2019). Causes of Death, Australia, 2018: Intentional self-harm, key characteristics, cat. no. 3303.0.
2 4326.0 ABS National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results