Poor mental health is one of the biggest challenges that the UK faces. But increasingly we are seeing a unique issue amongst men, where research shows that mental health challenges can affect men differently and disproportionately to women. This is sadly illustrated by the fact that three times as many men as women die by suicide, which is the largest cause of death for men under 50.
Whilst there isn’t a specific ‘male depression’ the signs and causes may be different, and studies suggest that the pressures around gender stereotypes, societal changes, and a reluctance to talk about emotions mean that men may respond in a different way to poor mental health. This includes using drugs and alcohol to cope or being less likely to access psychological therapies than women.
So, this International Men’s Day we’re shining a light on the challenge, but also what some of the incredible men and women in our teams are doing to look out for their mental health, and that of their colleagues.
Sport has enormous power to help with mental health, both as a result of exercising regularly, but also the impact of building new, supportive relationships with your team mates. Within our teams, there are two shining examples of how individuals can bring people together through sport to make a difference.
For Lou Malone, a Customer Service Coordinator for Greater Manchester, the desire to do something came from his own experiences with poor mental health, and the recognition that sport and community can kick off the change we need. For Simon Eastick an Engineer in the North East, based on his own time in the army, he realised the damage that toxic environments can have on men’s mental health and realised he could do something to overcome this.
Driven by the desire for change, Lou and Simon have set up their own remarkable community initiatives. In Greater Manchester, Men United Against Suicide Football Club (MUASFC) was set up by Lou, and on the other side of the Pennines, Simon established United Minds, a Sunderland based football team.
Their aims are similar, to combat male suicide rates and raise money for charity; so far more than £9,500 for local charities by MUASFC and more than £5,000 for Sunderland Mind. Most importantly these initiatives have brought together men from across their communities to build new connections and support each other.
Lone working is a reality for many of our engineers, and even for some of our desk-based teams. And because of that, it’s all too easy to miss the signs that someone is struggling. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to connect people who are working remotely, help prevent isolation and encourage people to speak up when they need help. It’s also key that our colleagues are there to spot the signs of someone who is struggling.
Joshua Bowles, a Yorkshire based Patch Manager, and Gerrit Schuurman, an engineer from Norwich are both passionate about tackling the issue of isolation and raising the profile of men’s mental health at the same time.
For both, their hard work comes from a desire to change attitudes here at Openreach; to a place where people feel comfortable sharing their feelings, can reach out to others, and ultimately break through the ‘man up’ culture than can sometimes exist in our, and other male dominated industries.
As a way of raising awareness and starting conversations, Josh is undertaking his own Movember challenge. As well as aiming to run an incredible 60km every week, to represent the 60 men we lose every hour to suicide across the globe, his challenge goes one step further. Joshua has also set the target to catch up with at least one colleague every day over a coffee and help ensure no one is suffering in silence.
For Gerrit, his attention is on ‘Workplace’ - Openreach’s internal communications platform. This is where teams from all four corners of the UK come together online, to share ideas, updates and ask tricky questions about the day job.
For Gerrit, Workplace is where he’s leading the conversation on mental health. He’s filming and sharing colleagues’ stories from across the business, breaking the stigma on speaking up, and encouraging others to reach out, find out more, listen and empathise.
Of course, the impact of mental ill health goes far beyond the person themselves. Family and friends are often relied on for vital support, but it is rarely easy.
For Jessica Horton, a Midlands based Specialist Operations First Line Leader at Openreach, this became all too real when, after a breakdown and two years battling with clinical depression and acute anxiety, Jessica’s partner attempted suicide. Thankfully, he’s recovering well and making progress with Jessica’s support.
During the early stages of his breakdown the pressure on Jessica, who essentially became his carer alongside her full-time job, was immense. Support from colleagues and from Openreach’s Employee Assistance Programme was vital to Jessica, who was told by a senior leader to “make sure your own oxygen mask is on first…then you can look after others”.
By being vocal, offering advice, facts, and tips to remove the stigma around poor mental health, and by opening up and showing vulnerability, Jessica has been able to foster open discussions, and raise awareness of the impacts of poor mental health on those around us.