4 Ways to Uplift Men in Employee Mental Health Programs

Mon, 01/11/2021 – 15:21

By Matt Resteghini, Chief Marketing Officer of Total Brain

When it comes to dealing with stress, men tend to focus on fixing problems. A problem-focused approach to managing stress and anxiety is often successful, except when the source of the stress cannot be eliminated – think global pandemic.

Amid the robust resurgence of COVID-19, recent findings from the Mental Health Index: U.S. Worker Edition[i] illustrates that women have been bearing the emotional brunt of COVID-19. However, brain assessments taken in August through October reveal a troubling new trend. Men’s mental health is declining. Men’s risk of depression is up 69% (154% greater risk than in February); and risk of general anxiety is up 55% (66% greater risk than in February). Between September and October, risk of PTSD went up 68%  (74% greater risk than in February) and the ability to focus declined 20%. The data show men’s mental health risks are nearing levels not seen since the onset of the pandemic.

According to Michael Thompson, president and CEO, National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a Mental Health Index partner, “The impact of the pandemic on mental health is starting to even out across the gender gap. While men may have been less impacted environmentally over the last eight months, their passive approach to coping may be catching up with them as the pandemic endures.”

Research has shown that men with mental illnesses are less likely to have received mental health treatment than women in the past year. And participation in workplace mental health and wellness programs reflects a similar reality. A report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that the higher the percentage of female employees, the more likely a company is to offer wellness programs.  

With men’s risk of depression alone up 154% when compared to before the pandemic, increasing efforts to engage male employees in workplace mental health initiatives have never been more critical. Here are 4 key considerations when seeking to uplift men in the mental health conversation:   

  • Lead: Are you leading by example?

Destigmatizing mental health among employees, especially men, is critical to ensuring the success of workplace mental health initiatives. Executives and management teams must set the tone and lead by example – participating in mental health programs and opening up about their own anxieties and stress. Leaders, especially male executives who can best address stigma related to social norms expected of men, must be willing to talk about how they are supporting their own mental health including using internal and external corporate resources.

  • Encourage: Do you encourage time for mental health self-care during the work week?  

In a survey by Optum, a global pharmacy benefit manager and care services group, half of men cited work demands for their lack of participation in workplace wellness initiatives. To counterbalance this argument, encourage employees to participate in mental health self-care activities each week – a walk, an open forum, digital brain exercises, meditation. Make sure employees understand that time taken for mental health is not frowned upon.

  • Offer: Do you offer anonymized self-care solutions?

Men don’t want to ask for help, especially not from their boss.  To engage men, it is important to offer self-help programs that are safe and secure and not visible to management and peers. Men are fixers. They want to fix their problems without publicly asking for help.

  • Use: Are your program communications materials using gender responsive language?

Social pressures and stigma to conform to gendered behavior are strong barriers for men.  But by reframing language around your mental health program, you may find that men will respond more positively.  Instead of focusing on mental health support and therapy, emphasize self-help, achievement and skill building.  

Numbers don’t lie. Data from the Mental Health Index tell an alarming story. Architects of mental health and wellness programs should evaluate their programs and see who has been excluded and include them in the planning of future programs and activities. An internal audit of mental health and wellness programs should also include other marginalized identities in the workplace, such as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ+ individuals. Removing barriers is essential to decreasing healthcare costs and absenteeism and increasing employee job satisfaction, productivity and performance in this era of COVID-19 and well beyond.

For more information about the U.S. Mental Health Index: U.S. Worker Edition visit here.

Matt Resteghini is the chief marketing officer of Total Brain, a mental health and brain performance self-monitoring and self-care platform.  Resteghini previously served as SVP of Marketing at Monster, a Randstad Digital Ventures company. 


[i] The Mental Health Index: U.S. Worker Edition by Total Brain contains data drawn from a weekly randomized sample of 500 working Americans taken from a larger universe of Total Brain users. They include workers from all walks of life and regions, job levels, occupations, industries and types of organizations (public vs. private). Assessment questions are identical to Total Brain’s standard assessments.

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