Men’s mental health and work

This report from UK think tank the Work Foundation argues the case for a gendered approach to policy.

It is clear that changes to the UK labour market in recent decades have created a predominantly male displaced workforce which, by and large, has struggled to either find work of similar quality or any work at all. Work is considered central to male masculinity and, as such, these structural changes have had significant implications for men’s mental health. Furthermore, men often work in jobs that pose threats to their physical health and safety, frequently characterised by low pay and insecurity,  requiring them to work for extended periods away from family. All of this poses particular challenges for men’s physical and, in particular, mental health.

To a large extent, the health problems presented by the changes to and the type of work that men typically do are compounded by the way in which they handle it.
Men, relative to women, are reluctant to express concerns about their mental health and engage with professional help. They are also significantly more likely to engage in risky healthy behaviours, e.g. alcohol and drug abuse, and are disproportionately affected by suicide. Furthermore, they are less likely to visit a GP, attend an NHS health check, get screened for cancer, visit a pharmacy or have a sexual health.They are also less likely to seek help for a mental health problem. Reasons for low levels of engagement are complex and more research is needed. However, cultural barriers have been cited, e.g. seeking help is not ‘masculine’, as well as practical barriers, e.g. being unable to fit GP appointments around work or working away from home preventing access to the local GP.

There are clear differences between men and women regarding how they experience and manage mental ill health. This has important implications for the type of support that men need. There are several examples – in the UK and internationally – of good practice seeking to address the need for appropriate services that promote men’s mental health (in and out of work) and support those who experience poorer mental health. Whether they aim to stimulate peer interaction, promote engagement with health services, de-stigmatise mental health or operationalise a ‘gendered’ approach to health, they share a similar aim: improving mental health outcomes for men. Our recommendations, set out below, draw on these examples and the evidence presented throughout the paper.

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