By Madison Hanscom, Ph.D.
The current pandemic is shining a spotlight on mental health. Individuals are experiencing extreme mental distress and uncertainty — demonstrating a need for greater attention to this topic . There have also been concerns that the new realities of this time, such as social isolation and loneliness, are creating a troublesome environment for many individuals because these are risk factors linked with suicide and substance abuse .
Another part of the conversation should be industry. People spend about a third of their day on average working; this time adds up quickly . Industry is an important factor to consider because it emphasizes how some groups have a different experience than others. For instance, many studies have found higher levels of depression among those working in male-dominated workforce groups than the general population (usually defined to be composed of more than 70% men) . When asked about heavy alcohol use, those working in 1) mining and 2) construction reported the highest rates of past-month use (According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) . According to the CDC, suicide rates are highest in 1) Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction; 2) Construction; 3) Other Services (e.g., automotive repair); 4) Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting; and 5) Transportation and Warehousing . These numbers are driven by males, because men have an overall higher likelihood for suicide than women .
With this being said, we are in a time of turbulence, and mental health is becoming even more of an issue . Focusing on mental health might not seem like a priority during an economic downturn, though for every $1 put into treatment for mental disorders, there is a $4 return in improved health and productivity . All groups deserve attention, and an emphasis on male-dominated occupations could be warranted given in increased risk for suicide. In addition, it is likely other industries will start to see a rise of problematic issues. Take healthcare for example. Many workers are feeling exasperated and overwhelmed. Among many stressors, there have been countless reports of PPE shortages, isolation from their own families, and a general sense of fear for their health (and of course the health of those around them).
Job-related factors can contribute to mental health issues. These might include low autonomy or control over one’s area of work, low levels of support for employees, inflexible hours, and unclear objectives . COVID-19 certainly can introduce new negative factors. Focusing on improving the job itself and building resources for employees to meet demands should be where employers start. Also, there should be an effort to make the culture of the organization one that supports all individuals (including men) in speaking up and seeking help. In masculine environments, there can be a stigma associated with mental illness, and this is associated with a culture in which men feel reluctant to acknowledge negative symptoms or seek support . Leaders should work to break down this stigma and give opportunities for people to voice feelings and concerns.
Many companies have taken action to build outlets and create additional support for their employees. For instance, training for crisis or suicide prevention has been offered. Some companies offer mental health toolbox talks, others have taken this a step further during the pandemic to livestream sessions with mental health professionals. Another approach has been to expand employee assistance programs to include more therapy sessions for the employee and family members. A very common approach is to offer free access to websites and apps designed to manage stress, anxiety, and sleep.
As uncertainty prevails during this troublesome time, employers can start to reflect on what they are doing for their people. In this blog I have only discussed the tip of the iceberg when it comes to different industries and mental health, though other segments of the population are certainly worth the attention. For instance, those with lower salaries are more likely to report major negative mental health impact as a result of COVID-19 . As we navigate the current situation and the recovery period, it will be more important than ever to look forward and prioritize strategies to build resources to support mental health for all employees. Please see our blog called “Mental Health During COVID-19, the Workplace, and Looking Forward” for tips and resources, as well as “Nine Tools for Leaders to Manage Extreme Pressures and Mental Wellbeing through the COVID-19 Black Swan Event”
A safe workplace means employees who are psychologically and physically healthy. At Propulo consulting, our focus has always been on safe production. Please visit our website (Propulo Consulting) for the latest insights and research into leadership effectiveness during COVID-19.
(1) https://psyarxiv.com/wc8ud Mental Distress among US adults during the COVID-19 pandemic
(6) Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1
 Roche, A. M., Pidd, K., Fischer, J. A., Lee, N., Scarfe, A., & Kostadinov, V. (2016). Men, work, and mental health: a systematic review of depression in male-dominated industries and occupations. Safety and health at work, 7(4), 268-283.