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Sensitive content warning: This article discusses suicide.
Our nation is witnessing an alarming level of suicides among working men.
Researchers at The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimate that at least 6 million men suffer from depressive disorders—including suicidal thoughts—each year.
Despite the fact that depression and suicide are a leading cause of death in working-age males, many suffer in silence, muted by a resistance to speaking about the mental health challenges they face:
- In 2020, men took their own lives 3.88 times more often than women
- 90% of those had a diagnosable mental health condition
- Approximately 80% of all people who die by suicide are of working age (18-65)
We’re still not talking about it
Unfortunately, I can personally attest to the alarming statistics illuminating the stigma of men’s mental health challenges. Several suicides in my college fraternity network over the last couple of years have really rocked me.
Yet, what has been even more shocking is that these deaths, at such a young age, have failed to generate any meaningful conversation among any of us on the topic of depression or the mental health struggles they faced.
How could this possibly be?
There’s a seemingly impenetrable perception and hard-wired belief system in men that admitting there is a real problem—and seeking out mental health support to address it—is a sign of weakness.
This toxic masculinity serves to prevent the normalization of open communication about mental health, which is driving the suicide rate.
I can also personally speak to the widely held belief among a large majority of men that depression is more of a short-term “issue,” resulting from the common challenges of everyday life. What’s true is that depression is much more often a very serious longer-term medical illness.
“What is he depressed about?” is an all-too common refrain from the men I know. It perfectly illustrates a lack of understanding of the complexities of depression from those who do not suffer from it themselves.
Normalizing mental health in the workplace
Because the American worker spends anywhere from 50-70% of their waking hours at work, this crisis is ever-present in the workplace. From the factory floor to the corporate office, mental health remains a taboo subject for men to bring up.
Data suggests that anywhere from 25-40% of men choose to hide any sign of mental health challenges or the resulting issues from their managers or co-workers, fearing that their career could be negatively affected by doing so.
Amid the startling statistics that illuminate the depth of the mental health challenges men face in the workplace, there is reason for hope. Unlike in the not-so-distant past, many mental health experts are aligned on what a sustainable solution to this could look like.
The first step in this roadmap to success is helping men see that being vulnerable, asking for help, and obtaining that help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Reversing the stigma
The normalization of men’s mental health begins with establishing a supportive workplace environment where men feel comfortable asking for help.
This may require a fundamental culture change to help normalize and “demystify” the challenging conversations men must have about mental health, depression, and suicide.
Here are some proven best practices you can implement for your custom blueprint for workplace suicide prevention.
Develop stronger situational awareness and proactive intervention strategies
Help your HR leaders and management team learn how to confidently identify warning signs in men and the right way to address them. This requires a strategic approach that adheres to the employee’s concerns about confidentiality, impact on job security, and judgment from co-workers.
Tailor your personalized approach to employee engagement
You may realize greater successes by exploring mental health challenges in the workplace through the unique viewpoint of men. This will help develop a deeper understanding of the wide variance of the needs of men and women in this area, as well as the divergent approaches they take to obtain professional help.
Familiarizing yourself with a man’s way of thinking when it comes to mental health will empower you to more effectively engage and connect with your employees when it matters most.
Provide easily accessible and confidential online support
A recent study on self-guided online therapy for depression illuminates the tremendously valuable role internet-based interventions can play in the workplace.
Digital solutions that allow men to seek help at their own pace are wildly more effective than more rigid options.
Be prepared to initiate difficult conversations with at-risk employees
Noticing the warning signs. These may include:
- Poor work performance
- A tendency to engage in conflict
- A withdrawal or sudden drop in communication with others
- Other behaviors that are out of character
But this is just the first step. Prioritize an HR-led training program that gives you the tools to strategically approach an employee for an exploratory conversation that can reveal mental health challenges.
Be prepared to initiate a more intense discussion with an employee you believe may be suicidal.
Being a trailblazer in your workplace saves lives
Prioritizing mental health and suicide prevention strategies for men in the workplace is gradually becoming more and more of a mainstream corporate function integrated into HR departments across America.
Spearheading a game-changing cultural shift to better mental health wellness in the workplace provides a demonstrated return on investment, complementing the core priority of helping to prevent suicide.
When employees feel better supported and more valued, they are:
- More productive and efficient
- Healthier (physically, in addition to mentally)
- More invested in a long-term career path and adding value
- Inclined to increase their investment in achieving their employer or departmental goals
- More likely to proactively identify and immediately support peers that may be exhibiting signs of mental health challenges
- Eager to take on greater challenges and leadership roles
- Less likely to underperform in their role, cause a conflict, or miss work due to mental or physical illness
The plethora of realized benefits, which exceed far beyond the list above, perfectly illustrates the symbiotic relationship between a powerful new dynamic in corporate culture, and the stem of suicides in the workplace.
The outcomes help reaffirm the critical importance (and indisputable ROI) of establishing a compassionate culture of open communication channels and widespread acceptance—where true strength is widely recognized as men not being afraid to get the help they need, when they need it.
Hear from two men at General Mills who are sharing their stories about mental health, and how therapy has helped them and their families heal.