Workplace Wellbeing

Men’s Mental Health is a Hidden Crisis Affecting Global Productivity. Here’s How HR Leaders Can Help Them Thrive.

With over 6 million men in the U.S. facing depression each year, the staggering $1 trillion global productivity loss underscores the urgent need to address men's mental health openly.

Written by
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Peter Mussatto
Clinically reviewed by
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    More than 6 million men in the U.S. suffer from depression every year. This contributes to the annual 1 trillion dollars in lost productivity across the globe due to depression and anxiety disorders. 

    One would think such a massive loss in revenue would spark conversation about the worldwide state of men’s mental health. And yet, the dialogue around this topic has been largely silent.

    Men may differ by culture, but the mental health challenges they face—whether it’s depression, anxiety, or loneliness—are universal. So are the tremendous pressures not to confront these mental health challenges because of social, workplace, or cultural norms. 

    For HR and benefit leaders, it’s important to understand how such norms prevent men from taking action to improve their mental well-being. It’s even more important to understand the causes of men’s mental health challenges and what can be done to improve mental health outcomes for men. 

    First, let’s look at some of the common mental health challenges men face along with their causes. 

    Men’s mental health: A growing global problem

    Almost everyone has experienced depression, anxiety, hopelessness, or loneliness at some point in their lives. These issues affect both men and women. The difference lies in how men deal with—and experience—these mental health issues. 

    1 in 10 men, for example, experience depression or anxiety. Less than half of them receive treatment. Other startling statistics about men’s mental health include:

    • 90% of people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia by age 30 are men.
    • 15% of men say they have no close friends at all, and loneliness is a significant factor in developing depression.
    • The 7th leading cause of death among men is suicide and it has been on the rise since 2000.

    With more and more mental health resources like online therapy and ERGs available than ever before, it’s easy to think that men would seek out treatment to prevent further statistics like these. There are, however, significant cultural, societal, and gender stereotypes that keep men from seeking the help they need. 

    Be a man: The role of social stigma and expectations

    Phrases like “man up” have become so commonplace in the culture that men think it’s the response they’ll receive if they even ask for help—let alone with their mental health. Social conditioning like this is part of what makes it difficult for men to seek mental health support when they need it. 

    There are stereotypes of men to be strong, stoic, and self-reliant, even if it means ignoring serious mental health symptoms. This often leads men to be reluctant to talk about their mental health, downplay symptoms, or develop unhealthy coping behaviors such as:

    • Spending a lot of time at work or on sports
    • Misusing alcohol and drugs
    • Anger and irritability
    • Risky behaviors, like reckless driving
    • Violent, controlling, or abusive behavior

    Add to these the fact that men are often blamed for their mental health challenges, and it’s no surprise why many men rarely seek treatment when needed. 

    Other obstacles to seeking help

    There’s a popular misconception among men that mental health struggles like depression or anxiety are signs of weakness rather than conditions common to the human experience. External social pressures and cultural norms are two major factors that contribute to this misconception.

    When people think of a man dealing with his problems, words like “strong” or “independent” often come to mind. Men are taught to “man up” or “keep calm.” This further reinforces the idea that men are considered “weak” if they choose to seek help with their mental health. This misperception is even greater in certain cultural contexts.

    The role of cultural influence in men’s mental health

    While men in general are less likely to seek mental health support, men from APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) cultural backgrounds are 60% less likely to do so than their white counterparts. 

    Patriarchal norms prevalent in certain APIDA cultures that promote stoicism and self-sacrifice are one reason for this. Even when facing adversity or challenges, APIDA men often suppress their feelings. 

    Organizations can ensure access to resources created for men from APIDA backgrounds, such as mental health providers from APIDA backgrounds. It’s also important to create an inclusive workplace that recognizes the particular cultural struggles that APIDA men face when seeking mental health support. 

    Loneliness: The hidden epidemic for men’s mental health

    There has been a lot of debate about the causes of depression and anxiety among men in today’s society. Some say that the increasing use of social media and online spaces is to blame. The root cause of depression and anxiety, however, is loneliness. Although both men and women experience loneliness, the causes of male loneliness differ. Here are five major factors that contribute to male loneliness:

    • Lack of close friendships
    • Societal expectations
    • Being unwilling or unable to open up
    • Career pressure and stress
    • Mental health conditions

    Men, especially after college, struggle to make close friends. This is often because of external societal pressures that say men should focus on their careers at the expense of relationships and hobbies. 

    According to multiple studies, loneliness is directly associated with the onset of depression. Depression causes some men to withdraw from social interactions, further increasing their feelings of loneliness. 

    One of the most powerful ways to combat loneliness is to connect with others, which in turn can decrease depression and anxiety. Other ways are prioritizing self-care, using technology platforms with mental health support, and seeking professional help through a licensed clinical therapist. 

    Men’s mental health doesn’t just take a mental toll—it takes a physical one, too

    As mentioned earlier, men will often deflect from dealing with depression and anxiety through escapism, such as spending an excessive amount of time at work. The pressure to succeed at work coupled with financial pressures at home may also cause men to seek unhealthy coping habits rather than speak to someone about these pressures. 

    And it’s not just mental health that suffers when men suffer from loneliness. It’s physical health, too. Prolonged loneliness can cause physical problems like cognitive decline, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and even death, according to the National Library of Medicine.

    The interplay between mental and physical health often creates painful cycles when it comes to loneliness. In severe cases, this can lead some men to suicide. One of the most alarming statistics is that while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to complete suicide. 

    Men die by suicide every year at a rate four times than that of women. 

    Improving men’s mental health in the workplace

    As dire as the global state of men’s mental health may be, there are many ways that employers can help male employees with their mental health. Here are a few:

    • Use ALEC—ask, listen, encourage action, and check-in. This is a four-step approach for leaders to use when initiating important conversations with male employees struggling with mental health. 
    • Ensure important communications about male loneliness are sent out, especially during the holidays when these feelings can surface. 
    • Offer culturally sensitive mental health support—these can increase the comfort of men trying to seek mental support and their willingness to engage in therapy.
    • Create “brave spaces,” or spaces where “...participants feel comfortable sharing and growing. It’s inclusive to all races, sexes, genders, abilities, immigration status, and lived experiences.”

    Actions like these benefit men from an individual mental health standpoint and are proven to benefit organizational productivity. For example, a 3.7x ROI in Japan and a 5x ROI in the U.K. from organizations that invest in employee mental wellness. 

    Keeping the conversation going

    While the causes and symptoms of men’s mental health are complex, there are many ways that HR and benefit leaders can take action to address these. 

    Like any major issue, improving men’s mental health starts with having conversations. And although these conversations may be uncomfortable and difficult at times, they’re worth having.

    Learn how HR and People leaders can prioritize men’s mental health in the workplace to dismantle stigma and foster open conversations.

    About the Author
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    Peter Mussatto

    Hailing from the windswept plains of Kansas, Peter now calls the hills of the Bay Area in California his home. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Kansas and has been a professional copywriter for nearly a decade. Issues about mental health and well-being—especially for men—are near and dear to his heart. Peter enjoys reading, drawing comics, going on walks with his dog, and spending time with his wife and newborn son.

    About the clinical reviewer
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