'It's time to take the issue out of the shadows and into the spotlight'
Lots of attention has been placed on how poorly women have fared during the pandemic, as such things as child care and home-based responsibilities have exacerbated their already trying experiences.
But for men, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation have also run rampant throughout that community, according to new research from B.C.
Men’s Mental Health in the Workplace, was released by HeadsUpGuys, a program within UBC, who partnered with the Community Savings Credit Union in producing the report.
Of the 1,450 men who were surveyed — between June 25, 2021 and Feb. 28, 2022 — it found almost half (49 per cent) had scored above the threshold for probable major depression, which was just one of the eye-opening numbers that jumped out to one HR leader.
“Some of the key statistics that jumped out for the loneliness statistic, so 55 per cent of respondents reporting loneliness, feelings of loneliness [and] a third [35 per cent] were experiencing suicidal self-injury at least a few times a week,” says Kirsten I’Anson, vice-president of people and culture at Community Savings Credit Union (CSCU) in Vancouver.
“For me that just really drives the importance of this report home are nearly one in four saying that they experienced psychological pain: that’s high,” she says.
‘Shockingly high levels’
Lead researcher, John Ogrodniczuk, who is a professor of psychiatry and the director of the psychotherapy program at UBC, said the report showed just how important the topic is becoming in Canada.
“It’s time to take the issue of male suicide out of the shadows and into the spotlight. The findings of this survey reveal shockingly high levels of suicidal ideation by men in the workplace. The workplace provides organizational infrastructure and frameworks that can be used to support mental health and wellbeing strategies, shaping workplace norms that reduce stigma and facilitate help-seeking, issues that have been well-documented as factors that impact men’s access to mental health services.”
It also pointed out that men account for 75 per cent of suicides and 42 per cent reported they engaged in hazardous behaviour, such as drinking high amounts of alcohol.
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With people spending so much time in the workplace, and after the CSCU commissioned a similar report on how women were feeling in 2021, the time was right to shift the focus toward men, says I’Anson.
“Out of this report, there are actionable steps that we can take, which as an HR professional is quite reassuring that we’re not just talking about it but we can take steps; there are things that as an organization, we can do.”
But most of the action items aren’t too onerous, according to I’Anson.
“Not all of them are complex, not all of them will seem entirely original but what is original is understanding them in context of the problem.”
End the stigma
It starts with having conversations around mental health, she says in order to destigmatize the problem.
“You don’t need a huge budget, which is something I like to talk about because we wanted everyone being able to participate, not just those with sizable HR budgets. We did a few internal videos, some interviews with our team where they were talking about their own experience of mental health during the pandemic, that’s where we started a couple of years back and we were obviously happy they agreed for us to share this with the rest of the team,” says I’Anson.
The HR team at CSCU also recently boosted its mental health care benefits, says I’Anson.
“We used to only give $200 a year for professional mental health support and that’s now $2,000 a year. We haven’t done it to tick a box, we’ve got it there so people can get preventative, as well as acute help for mental health issues.”
Besides offering more benefit money, the HR team also made efforts to let employees know what is available through a town hall event, says I’Anson.
As well, the organization offers quarterly sessions with a registered clinical counselor, “looking at strategies to deal with stress or particular situations that may come up at work like boundary setting,” she says.
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In order to help employees cope with all of the stressors of today’s world, promoting social networks at work was one of the report’s recommendations and it’s a new initiative that the credit union will make an annual affair, according to I’Anson.
“We actually closed all our branches for [one] day and put on an event. It wasn’t just that giving people a day off but it was really: we want this opportunity we’ll pay for everyone to get together and literally a social event that is get everyone in the same place, that provides food, drinks, prizes.”
“So again, simple to do but it can be really impactful,” she says.