The COVID-19 pandemic has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives. It has shown that our work has a significant impact on the way we feel. We have also witnessed more cracks emerge in the long-standing stigma surrounding mental health and traditional masculinity, where there is now a greater willingness for men to talk about mental health issues and seek support – even within the workplace.
A recent American Express Global Wellness Trendex* report confirms this. 79% of Australian men agree that they are more comfortable talking to colleagues about mental health than in the past (compared to 67% women). Further, 63% of Australian respondents have spoken to a colleague about mental health challenges in the past year (with men trending higher than women: 69% compared to 57%).
Through the social movement, Heart On My Sleeve, I launched Real Mates®, a mental health peer support program that aims to establish a thriving network of mental health ambassadors in the workplace who can provide mental health support. These passionate people become mental health advocates. Since introducing Real Mates to American Express, one of the first companies to pilot the Real Mates program in 2020, there are currently 67 accredited colleagues ready to listen, talk, and offer support. It is not necessarily about solving an individual’s problem. People want to feel understood more so than for others to take their problems away. It is about providing a safe ear.
Whilst it’s not about the results, the Real Mates program is working. It’s helping colleagues find that human connection with someone who has potentially walked a similar journey or who just wants to help. Right there in the workplace. And if they’re overwhelmed, there is a person available to listen and offer support. They can guide their peers toward what matters. I’m excited that organisations like American Express are introducing Real Mates into the workplace to help people who would have otherwise not had a safe place or person to turn to.
Day-to-day, we are often bombarded with information and hotlines to call in difficult situations. But resources can be challenging to find, requiring energy to do the research and trust in the unknown. The American Express Global Wellness Trendex notes that 77% of Australians agree that they value mental health support as a high priority compared to physical employee benefits. And 40% of men are taking more advantage of new mental health resources (compared to 28% of women).
For the most part, men tend to be problem-solvers at heart. The statistics show that we want to be more proactive in seeking help. The breakdown of stigma and the readily available resources create the perfect conditions for men who have always wanted to be on the front foot with their health. And with the help of their employer, they now can.
The increase in men coming forward to have conversations is bound to have a trickle effect. Seeing others open up can be a ticket of entry. Typically, men never want to feel like they’re stepping too far out of the norm or the acceptable range of vulnerability. So, when other people set the example for tolerance, the accepted vulnerability level rises, encouraging men to shift with it.
Since launching Heart On My Sleeve, we’ve worked to educate organisations about the importance of taking positive action in the area of mental health. That’s the difference between workplaces that bake cupcakes and those walking the walk and trying to transform everyday culture through long-term initiatives. Organisations that are willing to implement this into every aspect of business and make it a core part of their operations are the ones that will succeed.
I am excited to see society slowly edging toward a more gender-equal-orientated approach to reaching out for help. This pandemic broke us down and made us vulnerable. Hopefully, we can continue to recognise and fight for an open, honest, and authentic culture.
My vision for Real Mates is to be the best peer support platform for mental health. We want to put a Real Mate in every organisation on the globe. I think with that level of support, people will always have a shoulder to lean on.
When we talk about improving mental health in the workplace, let’s really mean it — from open discussions to providing the resources, and effectively upskilling the workforce to become mental health champions.
*Amex Trendex report methodology