Let’s skip the preamble about how awful 2020 has been. It’s been a sh*t sandwich of a year, and that’s undoubtedly had an impact on our mental health.
But The Bat Kiss hasn’t been entirely negative: many Australian men have turned a negative into a positive, using 2020 as their opportunity to make a change and improve their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing – even if it’s just little changes.
But there are still some big hurdles we need to overcome, many of which are in our own heads: research from WW recently revealed how Aussie men’s characteristic bravado and ‘she’ll be right’ attitude could be holding us back from improving our health, and now career website SEEK has come up with similar findings that show how social pressures could also be hampering positive growth, too.
Their latest data on mental health in the workplace has shown that while over half (56%) of Aussies are feeling more aware of their own mental health due to COVID-19 and 80% agree that people should be allowed to take days off for their mental health, only 1 in 3 claim they’ve taken time off for mental health reasons.
Other stats reveal how 40% of Aussie workers would feel uncomfortable speaking to their boss or manager about their mental health, and that 53% of workers who’ve taken time off for mental health reasons weren’t honest with their employers about it, giving another reason for taking time off instead. Perhaps most pertinently, 53% of Aussie workers feel that disclosing their mental health history in a job application or during an interview would disadvantage them – yet only 26% of those involved in the hiring process said that it would be a disadvantage.
The statistics reveal that while there seems to be a consensus about the value of mental health days and being open about one’s struggles with mental health, people are still afraid to be transparent. DMARGE spoke with SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read, who explains that this is especially true of Australian men.
“We only need to look at the statistics to know that mental health is an important issue for men. On average, one in eight men will experience depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives. Blokes make up an average six out of every eight suicides every single day in Australia. In fact, the number of men who die by suicide in Australia every year is nearly double the national road toll.”
“However, evidence also indicates men are far less likely to seek help for mental health conditions than women. Although this trend has slowed in recent years, we need to continue to encourage early intervention and support for men. In workplaces, help-seeking behaviour norms are often influenced and modelled by senior leaders and management, many of whom are men. Yet, at the end of the day, all of us are responsible for initiating, supporting and practising conversations and action regarding our individual and collective mental health.”
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A simple piece of mental health care that Australian men should be more open to is taking a mental health care day. While understandably most of us are reluctant to use paid leave willy-nilly, Australians could actually benefit from being less stingy with spending their leave: according to research Roy Morgan conducted last year, a huge number of Australians didn’t use all their annual leave by the end of 2019.
Not only is it bad for the economy if too many Aussies sit on their annual leave – it impacts productivity and could represent missed opportunities for the tourism sector, for example – it could also mean that Aussies are unnecessarily suffering from a mental health perspective when they could have allowed themselves some mental health leave.
It’s an especially pertinent discussion to be having in 2020 when our ability to travel (one of the most common uses of annual leave) has been severely reduced, while at the same time our collective mental health has taken an unprecedented toll. In short – maybe we should be taking more mental health days in 2020.
How To Take A Mental Health Day
Taking a mental health day is easier said than done, obviously. Not to fear: Sabina Read has some advice for men who might struggle to broach the issue with their employer.
“When approaching your employer, simple and direct communication is usually best,” she relates.
“There’s no need to offer up specific details of any mental health issues if they aren’t directly impacting your job, however, it’s useful to share that you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling; and that addressing this through taking a day (or more) off to attend to your wellbeing is important. Taking a mental health day can be associated with either general self-care or more serious mental health concerns, but it’s up to the individual, the level of disclosure shared with the boss.”
It’s important that you don’t spend the entire time feeling guilty about taking a mental health day either, she says.
“Taking a mental health day and being riddled with guilt negates the purpose of taking time away from work. It’s important to recognise that the mental health day is a way to effectively give back to yourself, put your own needs on the map, and prioritise the mind and body that enables you to live and work in ways that are important and meaningful to you.”
“As for how to spend your day, the list is long – resting, reading, walking, exercising, seeing a trusted friend or family member, doing something for yourself like lying in a bath or having a massage, and may also include thinking about strategies to address unmet needs at work, but most definitely will not involve working remotely or stewing in guilt.”
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However, mental health days aren’t the be-all and end-all of mental health care, Read warns.
“The reality is that we need to attend to our mental health every day – it requires regular attention to keep us feeling motivated, productive and able to cope with the demands of life. Ignoring or not valuing our mental wellbeing comes at a cost to the way we feel, our sense of engagement in work and life, our relationships, the sense of meaning we attach to work, and can often result in being unproductive.”
“We don’t need to be a psychologist or an expert to check in when we are concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of coworkers, and many of us fear that checking in may feel awkward, or that the conversation could be uncomfortable. Whether we’re an employer, employee, colleague, neighbour, family, or friend – mental health is everyone’s business.”
“There have been many reminders over the years around mental health – particularly R U OK? Day [which] has been an invitation for many Australians to check in with each other, but we need to do more than that. Employers have a responsibility to create a culture where discussing our mental health is no different than discussing our physical health, and there are practical ways to do this… if you have concerns about someone’s mental health, don’t ‘join the dots’… that’s not our role if we’re not a health professional. Our role is to observe tangible changes in behaviour, instead saying ‘I’ve noticed you’re more reserved than usual, are you feeling okay?’ [for example.]”
Fingers crossed 2020 will precipitate a healthier way of approaching mental health care in our day-to-day lives – particularly for men.