Monday, June 30, 2014

Working-Aged Men and Suicide Prevention: A Focus during Men’s Health Week

Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D., Carson J Spencer Foundation & National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

Around the world, men of working age carry the burden of suicide. In the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death for men ages 25-54. Additionally, men take their own lives at four times the rate of women. Because just about all of these men are working, were recently working, or have family members who are working, the workplace is a prime system to make suicide a health and safety priority. This week “Men’s Health Week” is celebrated internationally – here are some ways business leaders can help tie in messaging about mental health to help create a resilient workforce.
Men's Health Week advocates that the best way to improve male health is to tackle the most important health issues relevant to men, and mental health plays a big role in men’s overall health. As workplace leaders, we should investigate how job stress and workplace environments contribute to or protect from mental health challenges.

According to a groundbreaking and provocative book by internationally renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas Joiner called “Lonely at the Top,” men appear to enjoy many advantages in society that should give them protection from mental health challenges, but often do not. On average men of working age have greater incomes, more power, and experience a greater degree of social freedom than women or males at other times of the lifespan. However, many men pay a high price for the pursuit of all that success. Too often men take family and friends for granted in the chase for top rank and ambitious goals and find themselves alone when hard times hit.  As a result, many turn to maladaptive coping like prescription drug and alcohol abuse, affairs and other forms of self-destruction which in turn can fuel cycles of increasing depression and anxiety.

As one book reviewer states, “if there is one thing we know it’s that whatever society rewards is what you will see more of. Have you seen Forbes list of the 500 foremost people who provide love, friendship, support, and laughter in the world? Nope.”

In the never ending chase to bigger, better, more, business leaders often encourage this damaging pattern and many top performers end up burning out or worse. Instead, by encouraging wellness and relationships, leaders can help their talent keep up the levels of productivity so necessary in the long term.

Resources for men’s mental health are few and many are ineffective because many men don’t find them relevant. Recently a new innovative resource has emerged that give men an opportunity to understand their distress in new ways; self-assess for levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and anger; and create a blueprint for change. This tool – called “Man Therapy” ( uses humor to cut through social barriers and get men talking, thinking and supporting each other when stress becomes unmanageable.

What can workplaces do?

  • Promote the Man Therapy program through newsletters, social media and more. Several compelling videos can help with this, and they can be found here:
  • Train employees on how best to identify people in emerging distress and link them to qualified help before the situation becomes overwhelming. For more information:
  • Host lunch-and-learn brown bag presentations on mental health topics as part of your overall wellness program.
  • Audit policies to see if yours is a “mentally health workplace” – more here:
  • Provide tools to help employees screen themselves (e.g., “Workplace Response”) for mental health conditions:
  • Find ways to reward emotional intelligence, mental wellness, and community service to help create belongingness and meaningful purpose at work.
  • Take time this week to focus on men’s mental health during “Men’s Health Week” – it might not only improve morale and productivity at work, it might just save some lives.

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