by Dr John Barry
Work can be a key aspect of a man’s life, so when I was asked to talk about men’s work-related mental health to a Senior Research Analyst from the Service Desk Institute for International Men’s Day, I was very happy to do so (see the podcast here).
Is work a blessing or a curse?
It can be both. In general, men get a great deal out of having a job they enjoy. The key predictor of mental positivity in men is job satisfaction, according to survey of 2000 men in the UK and 5000 men in the US. The flip side of this is that men take unemployment and job stress badly.
Men and work-related stress
About a third of men say they always or frequently feel stressed because of their work, according to a large survey of men in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. Around half of men surveyed felt they couldn’t take time off work if stressed, and worried about what colleagues would say about them if they did. About a third worried that discussing their mental health could have a negative impact on their career.
Therapy for work-related stress
Although many companies have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), there is a question over whether the help available to men is adequate. Recent research has highlighted that men and women may have different preferences for aspects of therapy, for example, in general men are less inclined than women to want to discuss their feelings as a method of dealing with stress.
A large study in the UK found that both male and female employees showed significant benefits immediately following brief counselling. However, although at 6-month follow-up the women had maintained their gains, the male participants had fallen back to baseline levels of mental health. Usually studies of psychological therapies don’t take the client’s gender into account, and many don’t do follow-up assessments, so this rare study demonstrates the importance of making sure that the treatments available to male employees are male-friendly.
Men and help-seeking
It is often assumed that men don’t seek help because they see it as a sign of weakness. This might be part of the problem, but recent evidence suggests that there are other, more practical reasons. For example, some men find that the help on offer doesn’t appeal to them for various reasons e.g. the emphasis on talking about feelings, and in generaal male-friendly options aren’t available. It makes sense that men are less likely to seek therapy if they expect that they won’t be listened to, or won’t find empathy if they admit they use sex or pornography as a way of dealing with stress. In some cases men don’t seek help because they fear they will be blamed for their problem,
So how should men deal with stress?
This question isn’t often asked, partly because it has become somewhat indelicate in the social sciences to talk about sex differences (due probably to the popularity of the ‘gender similarities hypothesis’), and partly because we are inclined to overlook problems when they impact men compared to women (‘male gender blindness’).
If the stress is related to work, practical solutions should be assessed first e.g. a change in work practice, such as reduction in hours. Everyday ways of unwinding should be considered too e.g. exercise. Presuming these avenues have been explored already and the stress remains a problem for the man, then a male-friendly intervention should be considered.
The Handbook of Male Psychology & Mental Health describes male-friendly ways of dealing with a range of issues, and the final chapter of the book summaries how to make any therapy more male-friendly. To this end, three key points to consider are:
- Firstly that it’s important to empathise with men. For example, don’t presume that a man’s problem is caused by masculinity in some way; listen instead to the man as a person who has views and feelings that make sense of his experience.
- Secondly, respect the fact that a male client might be more interested in taking practical steps to fixing the problem rather than talking about his feelings. Be open to offering solution-focused therapy rather than emotion focused therapy.
- Thirdly, respect the fact that men might use language and communicate differently to the average female client. For example, if a client uses ‘banter’, it’s important that the therapist doesn’t dismiss the male client as someone who isn’t serious about therapy.
These are just three simple pointers in the direction of creating a male-friendly therapy, but ones that can make a difference to a man who is finding his work a burden rather than a blessing, and needs your help to improve his life.
About the author
Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1 DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).