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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.
One in four men said they had experienced psychological pain so severe it made them feel like they were falling apart.

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.

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