My role


Man's best friend and worst enemy

Going to work can be one of the biggest stress factors in a man's life yet for many men it's work that gives them a sense of identity, purpose and of wellbeing. Lynn Eaton, editor of MHF Magazine, on the newsbeat at the Men's Health Forum's 'Mind your Head' conference asks: how can we square this vicious circle?


Lynn EatonWhat one man finds challenging and exciting, another will find incredibly stressful, Rosemary Anderson, a consultant specialising in stress management told me.

Changing the culture of the workplace can have a really positive effect on the mental wellbeing of its workforce, said Anderson, encouraging managers to give the occasional word of praise.

She said when people got ill, it wasn't good enough merely to get them better and then to send them back to the same, stressful environment.

'It's a bit like taking a goldfish out of a bowl of dirty water because they get ill, then putting them in clean water and then they get better. But you put them back in the dirty water and, almost inevitably, they get ill again.'

With the average settlement for stress at work reaching £175,000 it was important for companies to take the issue seriously, she said. According to the Health and Safety Executive, 500,000 people in the UK are currently off work with a stress related illness.

This is costing the economy £23.1 billion a year and represents 30 million lost working days.

'Changing the culture, so the staff feel able to speak up, is the big problem,' she said. But with men in so many senior management positions, it was men who had the power to make that change.

Karen Lansing, a psychotherapist with the police service in Northern Irelend who previously worked with the police in the United States, showed the brain scans she used to convince police officers that post traumatic stress not only happens and can be seen on the brain, but can be treated. She explained how men needed to see this in order to believe it was real and not imagined. She also explained they taught the police how to look out for warning signs of stress - such as disturbed sleep patterns and nightmares - and to nurture a culture in the organisation of keeping a watchful eye on others who might be suffering stress.

Meanwhile Bob Grove, from the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, argued work was actually good for men's health. Unemployed men were six times more likely than employed men to take their own lives and the figure among young unemployed men was 40 times higher.

'Lack of work affects status, particularly of men,' he said. 'When men lose their jobs other things go downhill as well — their relationships, their marriage, their sex life.

'It' s all very well getting people who have been mentally ill back to a good state of mental health, but you have to give them something to live for,' he said, outlining some of the initiatives the Sainsbury Centre has set up to encourage young black men with mental health problems back into employment.

'The key thing was it gave them hope.'

Work can be both a man's best friend and his worst enemy. Rather like the male himself really.

Page created on August 1st, 2006

Page updated on December 1st, 2009