According to the latest data, every year there are approximately 800,000 deaths by suicide. Of those, 75% of them are men. In the time it will take you to read this article approximately 10 men will have died by suicide.
And that was before the added uncertainty, stress and anxiety that has swept over us with the arrival of COVID-19.
Understanding the role gender is playing in the COVID-19 outbreak as well as building cross-sectoral responses to serious pandemic effects on men’s health should be of utmost interest to public health officials and business leaders. According to Sarah Hawkes, Professor of Global Public Health at University College London, “the pandemic has finally opened our eyes to the fact that health is not driven just by biology, but by the social environment in which we all find ourselves and gender is a major part of that.” (Soundcloud, 2020). This is concerning for all sectors of society but it should be an acute concern for businesses from productivity, culture and leadership, and social responsibility perspectives.
The coronavirus second wave statistics show that globally men are more at risk of dying from the virus than women (Global Health, 2020).
Compounding the vulnerability to the virus itself, men are at risk to the rising mental health challenges that are on the increase since the pandemic started including depression, stress, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide (Khan, Ratelle, Arendse, 2020). As many professional and social environments become more restricted and isolating, men are at particular risk for unique reasons:
- They are statistically more reluctant to seek help, report mental health concerns, and can tend toward more social isolation.
- For men in provider roles, economic hardship and job security unpredictability caused by COVID-19 has added increased stress.
- Men, as is well documented, process and experience stress, anxiety, depression and other issues differently (Mayo Clinic, 2020).
- As many workplaces limit capacity and restrict social contact and other restrictions are implemented on social activities, recreational programming and clubs, gyms, and entertainment venues, men become more vulnerable as a result of reduced physical outlets and increase in negative mental health triggers.
A recently published research report on mental health among Canadians by Morneau Shepell shows a consistent trend of negative overall mental health among Canadians at the six-month mark of the pandemic (Morneau Shepell, 2020). The message is clear: businesses can and should support men and women for their own benefit and the benefit of families, the community and economic recovery. This will, of course, also benefit the organizations themselves as corporate culture has been disrupted, leaving employees, including corporate executives and managers, struggling to maintain motivation and connection to each other and to a shared purpose. Companies who proactively lean in to maintaining the mental well-being of their teams can develop resiliency, which in turn positions them far better for a future that remains largely unclear.
As we move into heightened restrictions in many regions of Canada, the United States and globally we need to consider not only new perspectives to cope and grow through these work conditions but also what we can do as community and organizational leaders to strengthen the resiliency of men, women and families. What we have seen in our professional roles as community and organizational facilitators of men’s leadership and health is that businesses have an opportunity to do far more to support the unique challenges men face in this time. To not do so is to miss an opportunity for significant learning, community resiliency and leadership growth.
Now more than ever companies of all types and sizes also have the opportunity to demonstrate an oft-forgotten element of their role with their employees — the “duty of care” towards their staff, both as it relates to their professional aspects but also by indirectly fostering healthy personal lives, as well. Properly supported, these changes can actually be used to create a healthier relationship between organization, their employees, and the lives we all lead outside of work. Our futures as individuals, parents, professionals, communities and organizations are so interrelated at this time that we need to look for innovative ways to support the resilience of our public health systems, and businesses should take more responsibility and get creative.
We are encouraging organizations to support men and women uniquely and at times separately given the conditions we are facing. Men and women, as already noted, process and experience stress, anxiety, depression and other issues very differently. In our own experience as coaches and facilitators, working with men separately has proven to provide more honest conversations and humble learning realizations regarding all aspects of a healthy relationship to the new power and role dynamics in the home and at work. This approach also provides consistent accountability and support in areas of self-care, emotional maturation, resilience, creativity and leadership.
In the past seven months men, women and families have undergone an unexpected initiation with a new way of living and working. This new lifestyle has and likely will continue to put new demands on parents, couples, families and single people whose daily routines have been disrupted, challenged and restricted in ways that diminish living conditions and will adversely affect public health and quality of life in families, communities and businesses. Business and community leaders must address the challenges that COVID-19 present, however we believe the shorter and long-term mental health effects of pandemic life are not to be overlooked. The pandemic is affecting and will continue to affect the mental and general health of everybody. However, the health of men should be of concern not only given the higher rates of mortality and social factors contributing to mental health issues, but to ensure the recovery and flourishing of our families, communities, organizations and economy.
If you would like to discuss how you can better leverage your own organizational potential through helping men we are available to work with you to develop the right program for your company.
William Walker is a leadership and men’s coach with 18 years of experience working with professionals, executives, inmates, men and adolescent boys. He has coached hundreds of executives and leadership teams from organizations including Standard Chartered First Bank, The Royal Bank of Canada, McGill University, ACASS, St. Royal Entertainment, Blue Rush, GC Biotherapeutics, Emergent Biosolutions and Keyturn Public Benefit Corporation. He has written articles on men’s health, organizational learning and leadership, appeared on the Fully Integrated Leadership Podcast and presented at international conferences on leadership and organizational learning. He has an MBA in Sports Management is a certified Integral Therapist and teaches in the department of communication at the University of Ottawa.
Paul Simard is the founder of huMENity, a peer-driven support community that encourages men to connect more deeply with their emotional and physical selves, as well as a facilitator and men’s coach. His work focuses on men of all ages, in small group work as well as one-on-one coaching. He has worked with and participated in men’s circles and organizations from around the world, has written multiple articles on men, masculinity and leadership, has been a guest on several podcasts, and is a TEDx Speaker (The Mythical Man). Paul has held senior leadership roles in a wide range of organizations for the past 12 years, with a primary focus on the not-for-profit sector.
Soundcloud (2020) retrieved from interview https://soundcloud.com/gocommonthread/gender-and-covid-counting-the-uncounted
Global Health (2020) retrieved from https://globalhealth5050.org/the-sex-gender-and-covid-19-project/
Khan, Ratelle, Arendse (2020) retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42438-020-00152-1
Mayo Clinic (2020) retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/male-depression/art-20046216
Morneau Shepell (2020) retrieved from https://morneaushepell.mediaroom.com/2020-10-14-Almost-4-in-10-employees-are-less-motivated-at-work-since-the-pandemic