Workplace Wellbeing

Anger, Irritability, Fatigue: The Symptoms of Depression Look Different for Men at Work

In the workplace, depression is a central driver for rates of absenteeism, disabilities, and productivity loss, directly affecting employee engagement, motivation, productivity, and output. Here’s how to recognize the unique symptoms of depression in men, and normalize conversations about it at your organization.

Written by
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Dave Fisse
Clinically reviewed by
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A man angrily looking at his cell phone at home

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    This is Part 4 of our Men's Mental Health blog series.

    More than 6 million men suffer from depression each year in the U.S., and almost 80% of all people who commit suicide are men. 

    Male depression is a serious medical condition that is often not properly diagnosed, because men experience and express symptoms of depression differently than women. 

    This also makes it even more challenging for People leaders to recognize and support the wellbeing of their male employees. 

    The mental health needs and expectations of employees have been increasing and evolving for nearly three years now, attributed in part to the increased social isolation and wide-ranging stressors produced by the global pandemic. 

    Providing clear pathways to mental health support for men in the workplace is more important than ever. The CDC estimates that over a three-month period, employees struggling with depression “miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity.” Depression causes 200 million lost workdays each year, at a cost of $17 to $44 billion for employers. 

    Equipping your people leaders with the tools and training they need to recognize the unique symptoms of depression in men and normalize conversations around it will set your company up for sustained success. 

    The importance of recognizing the symptoms of depression in men

    There is a unique symbiotic relationship between work and mental health, which contributes to the challenge employers face as these numbers climb year over year. 

    Work directly affects mental health, just as mental health directly affects work. Common symptoms of depression such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, poor decision-making, and irritability manifest in poor work product, decreased efficiencies, physical illness, and missed workdays.

    Employers are recognizing that behavioral healthcare is as vital as physical healthcare. 

    According to a recent study, “the amount of money companies spend on the mental health of their employees has been rising rapidly—with annual costs increasing twice as fast as all other medical expenses in recent years. Treating depression alone costs $110 billion annually, and half of that cost is shouldered by employers.”

    Identifying the signs of male depression in the workplace 

    The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria medical professionals use to identify a depressive disorder include depressed mood, fatigue or loss of energy, weight loss or weight gain, or loss of interest in activities. However, men can experience different symptoms entirely, which don’t fit the traditional definition or diagnosis.

    These symptoms can include:

    • Irritability
    • Anger or rage
    • Abusive behavior
    • Risk-taking behavior
    • Escapist behavior

    Unfortunately, an all-too-common refrain persists in how people view depression: a short-term issue that others can just “get over.” What’s actually true is that depression is a serious mood disorder and substantial medical illness that severely impacts how an individual feels, thinks, and functions, at home and at work.

    In the workplace, depression is a central driver for rates of absenteeism, disabilities, and productivity loss, directly affecting your employees’:

    • Focus, engagement, motivation, productivity, and output
    • Stress and burnout
    • Physical health
    • Risk of addiction (as coping mechanism)
    • Worker disposition and morale

    The good news is that employers are investing in the training and education required to better recognize the subtleties of male depression, and better understand the limitations of the traditional criteria for diagnosis. 

    What can you do to support male employees’ mental health?

    Men have a greater need than ever before for mentally healthy workplaces, which requires employers to take on the real work of sustainable culture change.

    Your HR leaders and management team serve an important role on the frontlines, developing the foundation of a healthy and supportive culture of transparency in the workplace. 

    Committing to training People leaders on how to recognize the more subtle symptoms in men is an essential first step to achieve an open, honest, educated, and accepting company culture. 

    The second step is to establish a secure system or workflow, where these observations can be confidentially escalated to the appropriate managers and HR leaders. This is an integral part of any sustainable transformation for your company.

    The third key to successfully achieving your objective in this area is determining how to break down existing barriers with empathy and understanding. The more your team can help normalize open communication about men’s mental health in the workplace, the more empowered your male employees will be to acknowledge their personal challenges and seek out the help they need.

    Taking action. Making a difference.

    Here are some proven strategies and resources your organization can implement to support the psychological and emotional wellbeing of all your employees, but especially men:

    • Honest and compassionate conversations initiated by people leaders can demystify depression and help employees see that asking for help and being vulnerable is a sign of strength, not weakness. 
    • Offering an innovative EAP to your employees, with fast and easy access to high-quality mental health benefits, is a game-changer. Spring Health is a mental wellness benefit that can enhance or replace your EAP. From therapy to Moments—a digital library of self-guided exercises—we can help you and your teams through any mental health issues or crises, providing the guidance and support you need.
    • Provide confidential self-screening materials for symptoms of depression, which employees can easily obtain in common areas throughout the workplace and submit privately. Employee surveys can also provide your HR leaders with critical insights into the work environment and help illuminate issues that impact men’s mental health.
    • Programs that promote physical activity and/or stress relief—group-oriented lifestyle activities such as outdoor yoga, competitive team sports, or even meditation classes—can help decrease the symptoms of depression in men. These activities can also help promote relationship-building and positivity in the workplace.
    • A flexible or hybrid work schedule that enables them to work from home is another highly effective strategy. A 2021 study by the American Psychological Association (ASA) found that 34% of workers say that flexible hours would improve their mental health.
    • Lastly, consider flexible time off that allows employees to take time away from work to focus on their mental health. Flexible work schedules can promote better work-life balance, increased job satisfaction, and greater employee engagement, and reduce the costs associated with commuting to the office every day. 

    Why supporting men’s mental health in the workplace matters 

    Allocating resources to educational programs and immersive training that enables greater support for the mental health of your employees is a smart investment. 

    Your male employees don’t experience depression in isolation. Again, it’s a symbiotic relationship. 

    Employers, and the workplace they cultivate, play an important role in this equation. Prioritizing mental wellbeing by incorporating inclusive programs that emphasize positive mental health outcomes will deliver mutually beneficial results for employers, employees, and also for society.

    The sustainable culture change that will help define the future of mental health wellness for men in the workplace is well underway. And the momentum is set to continue. 

    The more success stories of acceptance and compassion we can share with the world, the more men will see that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

    Read this blog next to learn more about the men’s mental health crisis, and how to help prevent suicide in the workforce.

    About the Author
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    Dave Fisse

    A proud Pacific Northwest native, Dave lives in Los Angeles where the abundance of sunshine fuels his creativity. The University of Oregon School of Journalism provided the foundation for his 15-year career as a copywriter and storyteller. Dave is passionate about advocating for men's mental health, spending quality time with his wife and three-year-old, and watching Oregon Ducks football in the Fall.

    About the clinical reviewer
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