Leading By Example – Why We Need to Talk About Men and Mental Health

mental-health-in-men

As a society, we are only just beginning to understand the importance of mental and physical wellbeing. The public dialogue around these topics has certainly improved. The right noises are being made by businesses wanting to appear progressive. And yet the lived reality for most is that failure to adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’ still results in negative consequences. 

For men, cultural pressure to ignore mental and physical health crises remains particularly intense. According to statistics: 

The 2021 theme for International Men’s Day is ‘Leading by Example’. It is founded in a much-celebrated quote from Mahatma Gandhi: ‘We must become the change we seek’. Change is often most effective when it begins at the top. 

We’ve asked male founders to share ways they’re leading by example – from robust paternal and family leave policies, to paid counselling sessions. 

Read on for their inspiring responses. 

“I wanted to give people access to the same tools and strategies that helped me, in a format they could use anytime and anywhere.”

Dan Bladon, Co-Founder, Companion

Sometimes the clichés are true: many men would do almost anything other than go to the doctor or admit that they need a bit of help. I know that’s true because a few years ago, I was one of those men.

To the outside world. I was doing brilliantly – but I was really struggling with stress and anxiety and it had a devastating effect on my mental health. Instead of getting help I tried to ‘man up’, to stay strong, to weather the storm – all that stuff. And I just got worse. It wasn’t until I reached out and got professional help that I started to get better, and stayed better.

Stress and anxiety app Companion came from that experience. I wanted to help other people who were struggling, who were overloaded or stressed out and who didn’t know where to turn, particularly within the workplace. 

I wanted to give individuals and employees access to the same tools and strategies that helped me, and to do that in a way that they could access any time, anywhere, with total privacy. That’s why the idea of an app was so compelling: it takes away the barriers that might stop people getting the help they need.

I think that’s particularly important for men. We know that while stress, anxiety and mental health issues affect men and women equally, men are much less likely to seek help, support or treatment. You can see that in the statistics, which are really saddening.

Companion isn’t just about helping individuals, though. It’s also about changing the culture in the workplace, to put wellbeing at the heart – because wellbeing, or a lack of it, has a real effect on people’s health and on the health of the businesses they work for too.

If we can change the culture so people look out for one another, so that people know where to get the help and support they need and are encouraged to do that, it can make a real difference to all of us.

Companion has over 200 guides covering nearly 40 different topics including workplace stress and anxiety, starting a new job or getting a promotion, dealing with change or conflict, how to spot the signs of imminent burnout, how to get the best from home/remote working and much more.

The guides have been designed to give you the tools you need to deal with what’s happening right now and the strategies to help you become more resilient and better able to deal with challenges big and small in the future.

“Charity begins at home. We ensure our team have dedicated weeks off with their partners every quarter, outside of annual leave.”

Jab Siwela, Co-founder, Equip Afrique

At Equip Afrique, we ensure our team has dedicated weeks off with their partners every quarter so that they have breaks for their mental and health well-being.

Working in an international agriculture machinery startup supporting Southern Africa comes with unique challenges. Our team is always juggling a lot of plates, which can be stressful and intense on mental wellbeing and personal relationships.

As a company, we have realised charity begins at home. That’s why we ensure our team has dedicated weeks off with their partners every quarter, so that they have breaks for their mental and health well-being. We’ve implemented these ‘Refresh and Unwind Blocks’ to ensure the team gets rest outside of their annual leave to get a break from the fast-paced startup life. 

Recently, our Operations Director and visionary Takudzwa Newanji had his wife move into the country after a year away from each other because of the pandemic. We decided to give him 3 weeks off to spend some time with her, as he’d been working relentlessly on launching our new tractor rental services in Zimbabwe all year. 

This week, Technical Lead, Kevin Broe, has taken a Refresh and Unwind block to be with his wife as he spends a lot of his time juggling between farming, content creation and resolving technical issues. 

Mental health is an enormous challenge in the UK that needs to be taken seriously by employers and we are far from perfect, but we are trying to do what we can.

“The last 18 months have taught us to listen to our team. We’ve implemented paternity pay, paid counselling, work-from-home days and the Excel Wellbeing package.”

Mike Dunn, Managing Director,  Excel TM

As someone who has suffered with mental health in the past and struggled to speak up, I find it more important than ever for men to feel like they have a voice. 

One of our key roles at Excel TM Group is our recently appointed Head of People and Culture. By implementing this role, we have learned & understood that different members of the team have different needs both in and outside of work. 

From listening and understanding, we have implemented a number of policies including –

  • 1-month full paternity pay for men
  • Paid counselling by the company to support staff
  • Work from home days
  • The excel wellbeing package – £30 a month in vouchers to support the team on whatever they want. 

If the last 18 months has taught us anything, it is that we should listen to what our team wants and needs.

We shouldn’t assume that our traditional ways of working are always going to be successful – we need to learn & adapt. Spending time with your team is one of the greatest investments we can make.

“Being a Disability Confident Employer means we provide support for young apprentices and team members with more chronic mental health conditions.”

Paul Marden, MD, Carbon Six Digital

We’ve recognised that workplace stress and its impact on poor mental health is a critical health and safety risk factor for us.

Agency life is fast paced and can be relentless, and in a team dominated by predominantly young men we need to break down barriers to support, advise and guide the team to manage the stress. No more so than during the pandemic.

We’ve always signposted the team with support from the Remploy Mental Health Support Service, which is funded by the government, and provides practical coaching and support to develop techniques and coping strategies. 

This has helped us to provide support for young apprentices as well as team members with more chronic mental health conditions, which is important to us as we’re a Disability Confident Employer.

More recently, we’ve used simple techniques to provide additional support throughout the pandemic – such as more frequent one to one’s to keep in touch while working from home, and careful monitoring of workloads. 

We also used an anonymous feedback tool called Officevibe to help the team flag areas of concern.

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