In this Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s time we break the silence and destigmatize taboo health issues that affect millions of women globally.
So, what’s the problem?
You’ve heard of the gender pay gap, but what about the gender mental health gap? Recent studies reveal widening discrepancies between men’s and women’s mental health – from adolescence and beyond. When we talk about women, we are including people who were assigned female at birth or who self-identify as female, however, it’s important to recognise the discrepancies in mental wellbeing can be far more extreme for those who are part of the LGBTQI+ community.
Women are grappling with higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression due to a complex interplay of socioeconomic disparities, societal expectations and biological differences. Employers have a crucial role to play to address this issue.
This blog post will explore some factors driving gender mental health inequality and provide businesses with the tools they need to empower and support their female employees.
Key life journeys
Have you thought about the impact of these key life journeys on the mental health of your female employees: struggling with fertility, becoming a parent and going through menopause?
These natural life stages have a big impact on mental health. They can trigger emotions of loss, increased stress, anxiety and insomnia. They did before Covid-19, and will long after the pandemic too.
Here’s how they could be affecting your colleagues.
- 1 in 6 women who lose a baby in early pregnancy experiences long-term symptoms of post-traumatic stress
- 90% of men and women dealing with fertility issues report feeling depressed, whilst 43% say they have felt suicidal
A lack of clarity around workplace policy or guidelines can result in stress, anxiety and job pressure for those taking time off work for fertility treatment
Pregnancy and early parenthood:
- 1 in 5 new mothers experience a mental health issue during the perinatal period, as well as 1 in 8 partners
- Job security issues associated with parental leave and returning to work (mothers have been 47% more likely than fathers to have lost or quit their job post child birth).
Sleep deprivation, extreme fatigue and a loss of pre-baby identity are real issues for new parents – these are affecting your employees both at home and at work
- In addition to hot flushes, the psychological symptoms of menopause include brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, low mood and insomnia
- 69% report anxiety or depression as a symptom
- 92% report that these symptoms affect them at work
- 20% of those who experience symptoms of menopause consider leaving their job, often as a result of their symptoms
Menopause symptoms can be exacerbated by work and stress caused by the work environment.
Employers have a crucial role to play but luckily there are some simple measures you can take to support your female colleagues.
You can help support the physical, mental and emotional well-being of your people by providing holistic support, benefits and initiatives that get to the heart of the issues before they become a mental health crisis.
Why is this important?
- For creating a more equitable workplace – Supporting women’s mental health is a step towards creating a more inclusive and equal working environment.
- To increase engagement and productivity – A healthy workforce is more productive, creative, and engaged. By addressing mental health issues among women, employers can help to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism, ultimately improving overall workplace performance.
- Enhance employee retention – Addressing mental health challenges for women can lead to increased job satisfaction and employee loyalty. When employees feel supported, they are more likely to stay in their roles, reducing turnover and associated costs.
- Social responsibility – Supporting women’s mental health in the workplace demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility, which can boost a company’s reputation and attract talent and customers who share similar values.
What employers can do to help:
- Support major life journeys: Organisations should look at offering support for specialist issues that commonly impact mental health, such as fertility, pregnancy, early parenthood and menopause. Peppy, for example, is a digital healthcare benefit that offers tailored physical, mental and emotional well-being support rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, all via a secure mobile app. Being external from the organisation, Peppy creates a safe, confidential space where employees can truly open up.
- Watch out for warning signs: Learn to identify when someone is struggling. Warning signs include; working long hours and not taking breaks, increased levels of sickness, changes in mood, being late to video meetings, being distracted, uncharacteristic performance issues, overreaction to problems and even disruptive behaviour.
- Set boundaries: Particularly now, when a lot of us are working from home, setting boundaries has never been so important. Set boundaries such as no-meetings-Fridays or diarised lunch hours to reduce the burden on people when they’re feeling under pressure.
- Offer blended working: HR teams could consider offering blended working and a phased reopening as we return to the office. This allows people to mix remote work with time in the office when they feel comfortable to do so, and return to the workplace gradually, rather than suddenly. Flexible working arrangements are also an excellent way to reduce pressure for those who are having to take time out of their working day for appointments relating to fertility, pregnancy and menopause, whether these are in-person or virtual.
- Share your experiences:
- On a one-to-one basis, HR managers may benefit from showing a little vulnerability themselves.
- By sharing our experiences – whether about our own symptoms or struggles or about becoming a parent – you can help build trust and open dialogue with your colleagues.
- Creating a culture of openness is especially crucial today but it will also help you support your team through major life journeys now and well into the future.
Addressing taboo health issues impacting women’s mental health is essential to fostering a happier, healthier workforce. By breaking the silence and providing support and resources for women experiencing menopause, fertility challenges, and the demands of early parenthood, employers can promote mental well-being and create a more inclusive and compassionate work environment.