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Gender + Sexuality

Work and the Epidemic of Men’s Depression

A new Canadian survey paints a grim picture of a sometimes deadly crisis in men’s mental health.

Moira Wyton 24 Oct

Moira Wyton is The Tyee’s health reporter. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

Nearly half of Canadian men meet the threshold for clinical depression and one in three think about suicide or self-harm weekly, according to survey results from a B.C. researcher released today.

The survey of working-age men in Canada found 55 per cent reported feeling lonely and one in four said they had experienced psychological pain so severe it made them feel like they were falling apart.

“To see that roughly half of men are indicating they’re at least mild to moderately depressed is startling,” said Dr. John Ogrodniczuk, a professor of psychiatry and founder of the HeadsUpGuys men’s health program at the University of British Columbia.

When men are questioning whether they should continue living or feel as they are breaking down, “that’s a frightening place to be as an individual,” he told The Tyee.

The survey, co-sponsored by HeadsUpGuys and Community Savings Credit Union, asked 1,450 English-speaking men over the age of 18 about their mental health and work lives. They had a median age of 43, about 85 per cent of them were working full time and 71 per cent were white. More than 60 per cent of respondents were employed in B.C.

The questions focused on the men’s mental health and the impact their workplaces had on their sense of well-being. Ogrodniczuk noted that work/life lines have become blurred or eliminated altogether during the pandemic as remote working arrangements increased.

The alarming findings show many men are dealing with serious mental health challenges and workplace supports — while clearly needed — are sorely lacking across all types of industries.

Forty-two per cent of respondents reported hazardous drinking or alcohol use disorders in their lives, and about 35 per cent of men reported feeling dread about going to work.

Eleven per cent experienced weekly bullying at work, and about six per cent said they were bullied, threatened or sexually harassed at least once a week.

“That primary activity that we do, if one-third of people are dreading it, that’s a terrible place to be,” Ogrodniczuk said. “We have a lot of people showing up for work and they’re not doing well.”

Just under half of respondents reported having poor social supports and never asking for help. About 30 per cent of men said they were at least moderately burned out, and 36 were experiencing moderate to severe anger.

And about 35 per cent of men surveyed said their personal lives negatively impacted their performance at work.

“As soon as you step through that workplace door, you don’t leave your old self behind,” said Ogrodniczuk.

The information sheds new light on the risk factors that contribute to men’s disproportionately high suicide rate, Ogrodniczuk said. Men account for 75 per cent of deaths by suicide in Canada.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for men under the age of 50 in Canada, according to HeadsUpGuys, a resource for men living with depression.

Ogrodniczuk said the culture of shame and toxic masculinity prevents many men from seeking help, increasing their suffering and causing them to view feelings of sadness and being overwhelmed as a personal failure.

According to HeadsUpGuys, some of the male myths around mental illness include believing that depression is a sign of weakness, that anyone with enough willpower can “snap out of” feeling badly and that men should be “manly” enough to cope on their own without asking for help.

“We need to break down that barrier of shame for men,” Ogrodniczuk said.

Workplaces can be an important venue for that shift, the men in the survey indicated. They want to see frank and open discussions of mental health issues at work, more paid time off and additional benefits to support mental wellness, such as therapy and counselling.

Even something as simple as changing the terminology from “sick days” to “health days” can catalyze a mindset shift that prioritizes preventative rest and time off for mental and physical health, Ogrodniczuk said.

The report recommends offering more workplace social events, creating stronger anti-bullying and anti-harassment campaigns and providing information sessions on mental health and wellness practices to help employees more easily identify when they’re not doing OK.

Employers should also regularly review workloads and provide flexible employment arrangements as much as possible.

Ogrodniczuk sees masculine culture slowly evolving to be more open — from his practice as a psychotherapist for men, to his recreational hockey team’s locker room.

Ogrodniczuk hopes the survey’s findings will act as a starting point for broader policy and workplace action, and that it has inspired meaningful conversations among the participants already.

“Something small can have a profound impact,” he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Gender + Sexuality

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