Breaking the Stigma: Let’s Talk about the Impact Workplaces have on Men’s Mental Health

Coined ‘the black dog’ by Winston Churchill, the way depression and mental health issues affect the men of our nation has been brought into the spotlight in the last few years. Born of the trope of the stoic Kiwi bloke, New Zealand men have often felt like they have to deal with mental health issues on their own, and the effects of this have been near-disastrous.

1 in 8 Kiwi men will experience some form of depression in their lifetime, and our suicide rate for men is almost three times that for women.

Talking about it is the first step in us reversing these statistics.  Today we’re going to look at how workplaces have an effect on men’s mental health, and what employers can do to help mitigate these.


What Causes Mental Health Struggles?

Mental health issues can be caused by a range of issues, including:

  • The end of a relationship
  • Family difficulties
  • A death to someone close
  • Ongoing unemployment
  • Bullying
  • Financial issues
  • Physical injuries or restrictions

These are only a fraction of the reasons – in fact, sometimes there may be no reasons at all. It can affect anyone regardless of age, background, or gender.  The way depression affects men is different from women - we’re not saying that women aren’t affected, but men are less likely to speak out about their experiences.

Kiwi men feel that they aren’t allowed to admit when they are feeling weak or vulnerable.  This has led to our shocking suicide statistics - something we have only started properly addressing in the last few years but a positive step forward in the right direction.


Provisional suicide deaths by gender and rate per 100,000 population between July 2007 and June 2019 (source: Ministry of Justice)

Depression in the Workplace

One area that needs addressing is depression in the workplace. Mental health struggles in the workplace can stem from a range of factors, including:

  • A poor work/life balance
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Lack of connection to the business they work for
  • Workplace bullying
  • Performance struggles
  • Feeling trapped in their current role

Depression can manifest itself in many ways.  While you do your best to monitor your employees’ mental health, only looking for the obvious symptoms will mean many can fall through the cracks.  Mental health struggles manifest themselves in many different symptoms, including irritability, tiredness, weight fluctuation, or even just feelings of emptiness. 

There are many symptoms to keep an eye out for.

Breaking the Stigma 4_1

Main Causes of Workplace Stress in 2014 (source: BusinessNZ Wellness in the Workplace 2015)

What You Can Do to Help

A recent study found that over a quarter of respondents felt depressed at work and 12% had experienced workplace bullying. Any employer who cares about their staff will create an environment that removes the causes of depression.

However, creating a positive workplace to reduce mental health struggles will also benefit your business - it’s estimated that lost productivity due to poor mental health costs businesses $1,500 per employee annually.

There are simple changes that you can make to your business to help support your staff - you may find that these benefit your business too.

Promote a healthy culture

An overall change to your organisation’s culture will do wonders for your employees’ mental health.  There are many tips available online for how to do this, but it may be as simple as asking your staff for suggestions on what could boost their wellbeing at work. This way, they also feel heard, appreciated, and valued as a staff member.

Promote the Issue

One of the hardest things about overcoming mental health is talking about it.  Some staff may not be ready - by promoting self-help remedies may let them tackle the issue in their own way.


Remove the Cause

As an employer, you have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to take reasonable and practicable steps to protect your staff’s health and safety - this includes issues like bullying or overworking.  An anonymous channel may prompt staff to come forward about their concerns, allowing you to resolve them before they get any worse.

New Zealand: it’s time we got real about workplace depression.  We need to make changes in the workplace as much as we do at home to protect our brothers, fathers, and sons.  Small changes in the workplace could make the world of difference to someone who is suffering - and the cost of not doing so is too great to consider.

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