Doing "Men's Work" Makes Blokes Less Likely To Get Help

Is work making men sick? It certainly has an impact on whether blokes get help with their mental health, according to new research based on the long-term study of Australian men.

Men who work in male-dominated workplaces are less likely to access professional help for mental health issues than the rest of the population. Men whose experience of being a man is shaped by masculine views like "work is the most important part of my life" were also less likely to get help.

In the report  - (Treatment seeking by employment characteristics among Australian males: a longitudinal study form the Ten to Men study) - male dominated industries were defined as those who employed at least six times more men than women and included:

  • Auto mechanics
  • Trade and construction workers
  • Men working in mining 
  • Telecoms workers
  • Men operating heavy machinery
  • Drivers

Stressed By Work 

Factors that could contribute to men in these jobs getting less professional support with their mental health include a range of “psychosocial job stressors” which include:  

  • Job control (e.g. the freedom and ability to influence what happens at work)
  • Job demands (e.g. time pressure and workload)
  • Job insecurity (e.g. how concerned a worker is about losing his job)

As well as the potential impact of working in a demanding job with little control over your work and poor job security, other work-related factors that could reduce men’s access to mental health support include:

  • Limited access to workplace entitlements such as sick leave and flexible working conditions
  • Workplace mental health culture (e.g. whether employers and staff are supportive of people with mental health issues getting help)
  • Being in a job where strength, endurance and tolerating pain are important

The Pathway To Getting Help 

The researchers point out that treatment seeking isn't simple, but a highly complex set of behaviours that includes:

  • Being aware that you have poor mental health
  • Making a decision to change something
  • Deciding to seek professional help
  • Finding a professional you feel comfortable with
  • Making and keeping an appointment
  • Sticking to the recommended treatment

As there are numerous points on the pathway to getting help where the process can be interrupted, the authors point out there may be a range of issues that affect men in heavily male-dominated jobs during the process of seeking help.

Pointing to previous research which found that men understand, experience, express and cope with mental distress in different ways, the authors speculate that men in male-dominated jobs experience and recognise the symptoms of mental health issues differently from other men.

The Role Of Masculinity 

The researchers highlight the role of masculinity, noting that men whose experience of being a man is shaped by a strong belief in "traditional male gender norms" had lower odds of treatment seeking than men who did not. The "traditional male gender norms" measured in the research include the view that "work is the most important part of my life". 

Previous research by the same team found a strong link between a man's views about being a man and the type of job he does. Men who hold "traditional" masculine beliefs like "work is the most important part of my life" and "I [don't] like to talk about my feelings" are more likely to work in male dominated industries. 

The research also found that the higher a man's income, the more likely he was to seek treatment and that the chances of help-seeking increased with the severity of the mental health issue. 

The researchers conclude that workplace-related preventative initiatives need to target the most male-dominated occupational groups and that further research is needed into the work-related stressors that shape men's help-seeking behaviour.

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