Men - a different kind of depression
De-stigmatising mental health struggles in the workplace
The 21st century has seen a major shift in the conversation surrounding mental health, especially in the workplace. Where employees were once seen as automatons, they are now seen as individuals with varying capabilities and diverse life experiences. The diversity conversation has steered psychologists and HR experts to re-evaluate their approach to mental health, especially towards men, who are still considered largely underrepresented.
Work often shapes our lives. It informs our routines, affects how we socialise, and reinforces our self-esteem. Depression can impair an employee’s mood and distort their sense of self, negatively impacting their performance. Depressive symptoms include a range of emotional and physical health problems, including sadness, anxiety, loss of motivation, appetite change, and low concentration.
The external effects of mental health issues, especially depression, can be substantial - on patients, their families, and their employers. Workers with ongoing depression are typically 35% less productive. The cost of absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical expenses related to ongoing and unresolved depression totals an estimated $210.5 billion per year.¹ Employees with clinical depression have 4 times greater work limitations and 2.5 greater absences compared to their peers.²
Consider this: nearly 60% of employers offer on-site flu shots, yet the impact of flu on American businesses pales in comparison to the impact of depression as can be seen below.³
With pandemic after-effects surfacing, destigmatising mental illness should be a priority for all businesses. While there are large costs associated with depression in the workplace, there are massive gains to be had if it is eliminated entirely.
Is it gendered?
A mix of biological and social factors make it difficult to observe and diagnose depression in men. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, women seem to experience depression at a higher rate, but men may choose not to disclose this information, thus skewing data.⁴ For men, asking for support in the workplace can feel like a double-edged sword: either risk being vulnerable and ‘unmanly’ or worse, not be taken seriously. Gender socialisation can direct men to withhold or restrict emotional expression leaving them with limited ways to express psychological distress.
On the other hand, men may display symptoms of depression that do not meet the diagnostic criteria, making them difficult to capture. What would present itself as a low mood in women, could present itself as anger, workaholism, and hyperactivity in men.⁵
Depression can take the more sinister shape of substance abuse and risky behaviour when left unaddressed. Men are almost twice as likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, and engage in risk taking behaviour overall compared to women⁶. This is a symptom of a much larger disease, one that does not give men the space to express themselves or seek help.
Equity in the workplace implies that everybody gets the chance to seek help freely, within professional bounds. The greatest gift you will give to male employees is the knowledge to recognise, and coping mechanisms to get through their mental health struggles. The greatest gift you’ll give your company is brushing up on it yourself.
Recognition is key to action
The first step to addressing any issue in the workplace is learning to recognise it. All employees are different. As a manager or colleague, it’s up to you to tailor your approach based on what you observe. Here are the steps you can take:
1. Monitor red flags
Male employees may display three types of distress when dealing with depression: mental, emotional, and behavioural. These can range from an inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, to disinterest and substance abuse.
Observe the employee in question: are they showing up to work late? Is tardiness combined with other red flags like late submission, isolation, or looking dishevelled? Note your observations and check if there is a trend.
2. Give benefit of the doubt
Often, the only solution that comes to mind when an employee is performing poorly, or acting out, is to file a complaint or let them go. That is an easier solution than uprooting a systemic problem. Giving them the benefit of the doubt is key to approaching with empathy.
If you observe an increasing trend of red flags in step one, understand that there are multiple factors that could lead to this. Some of these include divorce or separation, workload, and recent trauma. To break a stigma that has not been broken before, companies must act like they’ve never done before.
3. Tailor your approach
All employees are different. Some may be experiencing short term depressive symptoms, others long term. Some may want to speak to their manager about their troubles, others may want to ensure anonymity by talking to HR personnel instead. It’s always best to ask the employee in question what would make them comfortable enough to open up.
Equally important is to see how busy they are and work around their schedule. This helps minimise the stress of completing pending tasks and juggling an emotionally taxing conversation.
Mental health is a critical issue at the workplace. This is why SHAPE uses the highly reliable DASS (Depression, Anxiety and Stress Survey) in the Psychological Health Explorer. Employees can gauge how severe their DASS symptoms are, and together with our world-class Best Practice guides, get into their most productive shape yet.
¹anon. (2022): „What employers need to know about mental health in the workplace“. Mental Health in the Workplace - What Employers Need to Know | McLean Hospital. Retrieved am 28.06.2022 from https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/what-employers-need-know-about-mental-health-workplace.
²Lerner, Debra; Adler, David A; Rogers, William H; et al. (2010): „Work performance of employees with depression: The impact of work stressors“. American journal of health promotion : AJHP. U.S. National Library of Medicine Retrieved am 28.06.2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4174367/.
³RISQ Consulting (2021): “Mental health in the Workplace“. RISQ Consulting. Retrieved am 28.06.2022 from https://risqconsulting.com/mental-health-in-the-workplace/.
⁴Brody, Debra J.; Pratt, Laura A.; Hughes, Jeffery P. (2018): „Prevalence of Depression Among Adults Aged 20 and Over: United States, 2013–2016“. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Retrieved am 28.06.2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db303.htm.
⁵Cirino, Erica (2021): „Signs and symptoms of depression in men“. Healthline. Healthline Media Retrieved am 28.06.2022 from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/symptoms-of-depression-in-men#behavioral.
⁶Lisa A. Martin, PhD (2013): „Symptoms of depression in men VS women“. JAMA Psychiatry. JAMA Network Retrieved am 28.06.2022 from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1733742.*