Health - Stress management
Monday, 30 November 2009 08:57
Written by by Kelly Parker
Sure, we’re evolving as members of the male gender. All you have to do is look at an episode of Mad Men to see just how far we’ve come in the last few decades. We accept that some of you watch that show with a certain nostalgia that goes beyond the cool clothes, the office-as-bar concept and rampant Zippo use, to the good old men-call-all-the-shots/woman-are-mere-chattel days, and we’ll pause for a moment while you raise your knuckles off the floor.
Yet, as far as we’ve come in levelling the male-female playing field, it might interest you to know that in Winnipeg, which is not unique in this area mind you, men are four times as likely to commit suicide than women. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s 400 per cent.
Why? Simple. As far as we’ve come in our attitudes toward women, we still lag in one critical area, hard-wired into us by everything from our dads, to our buddies in the rec league, to movies and television: we would still prefer to scrape all of our skin off with a dessert spoon than to admit weakness.
Dr. Don McCreary is co-chair of the Toronto Men’s Health Network (TMHN), associate editor of the International Journal of Men’s Health and one of a small handful of men’s health researchers in Canada. In a recent article for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), he explained that silence still prevails on the issue of men and mental health. “The women’s health movement was very self-directed,” he says. “Women banded together to work on problems with health delivery. Men don’t want to do that. We have (fostered a culture where) men have to be tough; men have to be strong. Our society is very good at punishing gender deviation in men. Weakness is not considered to be masculine.”
If the “code” governing men’s behaviour is one of the prime barriers preventing men from seeking help at all, they are especially reluctant to acknowledge emotional difficulties; so mental health problems tend to go undiagnosed. And men are even less likely to cop to workplace stress, according to Ruth-Anne Craig, executive director of the CMHA’s Manitoba branch. “I think it all has to do with that very strong tendency by men–more so than with women–to tie their identity to a specific role that they have in the workplace,” she says.
Bill Wilkerson is co-founder and CEO of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, a federal non-profit corporation that is working to reduce disabilities due to mental disorders in the labour force. In a recent Globe & Mail interview, Wilkerson underlined a paradox that exists regarding the stigma still attached to mental health issues: “There’s this attitude out there that if you come back from cancer, you’re a hero, but if you come back from depression, you’re damaged goods.” Never mind the fact that the health risks due to stress include cancer itself, as well as everything from backaches, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, E.D. issues and heart disease.
And why do you think the Mad Men do so much drinking in the office? Because chronic workplace stress has been an issue for decades, and one of the sure signs that work is stressing you out is increased alcohol (or drug) consumption. Presuming that the booze at Sterling-Cooper is “expensed,” those costs are just the tip of the iceberg for business.
Klinic Community Health Centre in Winnipeg has a host of resources in place to assist those who are dealing with stress and other mental health issues, including a program called Man-to-Man, still in its formative stage.
Curt Sparkes, project coordinator of that initiative, cites Wilkerson’s findings in stating that for every employee living with unaddressed depression, the cost to their employer is about $10,000 per year, and the cost to the Canadian economy is $14.4 billion per year. “When you expand that to include addictions–which are a very common way of dealing with depression,” Sparkes says, “the cost to employers goes up to something like $33 million per year, and that doesn’t take into account an employee who might be at work, but is not productive due to poor sleep patterns or poor health overall. Workplace stress also leads to increased conflicts with co-workers, and depending on the type of work, there might even be safety hazards at play.”
Unfortunately, says Sparkes, too many businesses–especially in these economic times where virtually all of the focus is on reducing hard costs–don’t understand these soft costs associated with workplace stress. “One of the challenges I’ve found when I contact HR people or sometimes management, is they would be very much on board–it feels almost like preaching to the choir–but at the same time, they aren’t really ready to do anything about it. They love the idea, but feel they can’t afford to take time out from the workday for a half-hour presentation, especially in this economy. That tells me that it takes people time to realize that the way they are doing things at the moment isn’t really working for their business.”
Although the business sector is slowly becoming more enlightened, men might still get relief quicker by tackling the problem themselves. “I think that if we could eliminate those (communication) barriers,” emphasizes Craig, “and let men know that it is normal to be feeling all of those stressors–especially in economic times like these–they would feel a lot better about asking for help.”
Reaching out for your own solutions, there’s a concept worth considering. You could even view it as a way of handling the problem yourself, couldn’t you, gentlemen?
For information and help:
Canadian Mental Health Assoc. [MB]:
Mental Health Works (An initiative of CMHA [ON]):
Klinic Community Health Centre:
Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health: