Blue Monday – Men’s Health

January 1, 1970

This Blue Monday, learn how to support the mental health of your male employees

Every year it comes around – ‘Blue Monday’. The third Monday of the year (this year 17th January) is, apparently, when our mental health is meant to be at its lowest point.

Or is it?

Linda Gillham, Healthy Minds Lead Practitioner at Peppy, says the idea that there is one particular day that is the most depressing of the year is a gimmick. It’s taken advantage of by the travel industry in order to compel us to book our holidays and dream of better times.

“Why would you wake up one particular Monday feeling worse? For people who experience low mood and depression it is something of an insult. For them, mental health issues are a 365-days-a-year thing.”

This, of course, is not to say that some of us are not affected by a certain gloominess in Winter. We can feel down after the fun (or, in some cases, the ordeal) of Christmas. Our finances may be constrained. If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated to SAD), this time of year can be especially challenging.

But mental health issues are a year-round problem, and increasingly spoken about in the context of the male population. In England, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem. And yet, 40% of men won’t talk about their own mental health.

Here are some tips for supporting your male workforce through mental health issues and preventing them from becoming more severe – on Blue Monday, and beyond.

Ask…and ask again

When you ask somebody how they’re doing, ask them twice. “We have this ritual of asking ‘How are you doing?’ and the standard response being, ‘I’m fine’, but it’s important to go beyond the ritual – to meaningfully ask, ‘How are you?’ and take an interest in the answer,” says Linda.

“A lot of men will say they’re alright when actually they’re not – because that’s what’s expected of them. So, either ask in a different way, or ask twice. Then you can start a conversation about how they really are and what can be done to help them feel better.”

Give them recognition

“Acknowledging that men have different needs to women when it comes to work is really important. Men need to feel that they’re recognised for what they’re doing, but also who they are,” says Linda.

There’s a lot of recognition in the workplace for meeting goals, because they’re measurable. “But it perpetuates that feeling of ‘I’ve got to try harder’. When they don’t hit their targets, they don’t get the recognition they’re used to, and therefore start to beat themselves up about work,” says Linda.

Workplaces must acknowledge staff for who they are – that they’re a pleasure to work with, a team player, reliable, a good listener, etc. – as well as for their achievements.

Set achievable goals

“Two things that affect the mental health of people in the workplace is when they don’t feel heard or seen. It’s important to address these head-on to help support employees’ mental health,” says Linda.

If people feel taken for granted or their targets are off the chart and they just can’t ever meet them, they never get a sense of satisfaction. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness . “This means work just becomes a relentless process, especially if we’re working from home,” says Linda.

“Setting shorter, more achievable goals and challenges that prompt recognition can help enormously. And these need to be decided collaboratively, so individuals feel heard by their line managers and wider team,” says Linda.

Focus on prevention

The drudge of spending your whole day on Zoom or Teams can take its toll. Equally, the blurring of lines between work-life and home life, that feeling of always being ‘always on’ and never being able to switch off, can do much harm if it becomes a habit. So, you need to encourage new habits.

“Rules like ‘no meetings on Zoom before 10 or after four’ and making lunch breaks obligatory can be very effective. Urge staff to get away from their desk during their lunch hour and have a change of scene. By encouraging good habits instead of firefighting, organisations can prevent mental health problems,” says Linda.

Peppy Men is a digital health app that focuses on preventing common men’s health problems from becoming a crisis, by connecting male employees with a library of resources designed specifically with men in mind, which they can access anytime, anywhere on their mobile.

Regular check-ins

When we’re working remotely, that casual conversation by the coffee machine when you might say “Actually, I’m not feeling too great,” is missing. “The lack of opportunity to drop how we’re feeling into conversation means mental health issues are not being raised,” says Linda.

“I think managers and HR departments need to be more aware of their staff, because it’s so easy to disappear on Zoom,” says Linda. Arrange regular check-ins with team members and encourage staff to meet for coffee on Zoom, just for a chat. ‘Donut’ is a useful tool for remote workforces, which pairs up two staff members at random for a chat.

Mental Health First Aiders or HR teams should create a time slot – a safe space – where people can just turn up to talk about whatever they want.

“Specifically for men, listen to the language they are using. If, for example, they’re referring to being ‘burnt out’ and ‘really busy’, the message immediately sounds like, ‘I’ve been working really hard and being strong’. But what they might mean is, ‘I’m stressed, feel anxious and need some help’,” says Linda.

Encourage confidential chat

The disinhibiting effect of sending a chat message, rather than sitting face to face with somebody, makes it far easier to say “Actually, I don’t feel great”.

This is where Peppy comes in, providing access to highly-qualified mental health experts via the app’s confidential chat function, as well as virtual events, quick answer videos and audio series specific to mental wellbeing.

Research shows that men engage better with healthcare when they know it is discreet and confidential. “Generally, if men can’t see who they’re looking at, those feelings of shame, of admitting weakness, of somehow having failed, aren’t such an issue,” says Linda.

Another good technique is walking and talking. “It is much better to be side to side with somebody than it is face to face. It makes those sometimes-awkward conversations less daunting,” says Linda. So, as and when we return to working together in-person, consider scheduling your next check in as a walking catch up.

Conclusion

“You can often see when someone’s anxious or stressed. But it’s very, very hard to see when somebody is suffering from low mood or depression. The signs are covert,” says Linda. For men, mental health can be even more insidious, as many would prefer to suffer in silence than talk about it.

Work is cited as the biggest cause of pressure in men’s life, closely followed by finance and then health. It’s for this reason that organisations need to take action to commit to their male employees’ mental, physical and financial wellbeing.

Now is the time to learn how to spot the signs, and to implement the necessary changes to support your male colleagues.