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Behavioral Health Q & A Column – June 2020 Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month

By: Lisa Desai, MindWise Innovations
June 18, 2020 

Welcome to the newest edition of the Behavioral Health Q&A Column! VPPPA has partnered with experts at MindWise Innovations to present a monthly Q&A article addressing questions that members might be hesitant to ask about. These columns will address your questions about mental health, substance abuse, brain injuries, family issues and more. We will be posting a new column on the third Thursday of each month. To submit your own question for the experts click here. 

June is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge that cultural forces and expectations traditionally placed on men can get in the way of help seeking. What cultural forces? Historically, men have been raised with the idea that to be strong means not voicing any problem, powering through struggles, and keeping their feelings to themselves. This can result in feeling overwhelmed by depression, anxiety and other mental health struggles. The impact of not reaching out can lead to damaging behavioral like substance use, gambling, alcohol misuse and risky behaviors. The following questions address how we can support men’s behavioral health needs.

Question #1:
I’m the HR Director at my organization and I’m looking for advice on how to decrease male stigma in the workplace. The majority of employees who take advantage of our EAP and participate in our mental health engagement programs are female. How can I ensure that we’re reaching our male employees too?
Creating opportunities for conversations about behavioral health decreases the stigma that surrounds both mental health and substance misuse, but also around help seeking.  In order to encourage men to use EAP services, it’s vital that your organization is creating a culture which supports talking about mental health. 
Clear information about what your EAP provides is also helpful. Decreasing stigma for men in terms of seeking counseling happens when we talk openly about behavioral health struggles and begin to think of reaching out as a sign of strength. It takes courage and strength to reach out for any kind of help, so let’s get behind that!

Question #2:
How can I address the racial injustices that have been occurring recently and make sure I’m communicating appropriately to our very diverse group of employees? 
First, see what your company provides regarding Diversity and Inclusion (DI) services.  Do you have a DI manager, director or Employee Resource Group (ERG) that you can turn to for best practices and guidance?  
Communications regarding ethnicity and race at these times can feel intimidating, confusing and bring out dramatically different viewpoints. Again, it’s important to turn to experts in the field who can lead respectful, productive conversations.  As a manager or even as a coworker, do your best to be respectful in your language and tone when talking about diversity, and to bring empathy to the conversation. Empathy is about trying to understand what It’s like to stand in another person’s shoes and be supportive to their experience.  Remember that not everyone will want to talk about the recent racial injustices, and that is fine too.

Question #3:
How can I be supportive of the men in my life in terms of their mental health without making them feel uncomfortable?
Sometimes we are unaware of the way we react to stereotypes in our daily life.  For example, a male friend may reveal sad or painful feelings when we are unaccustomed to them doing so.
It might be easy to react with surprise or even joke about it, which can – without our realizing it – shut down the conversation. We all have expectations and even stereotypes about how the men in our lives should or usually behave.  Try to expand the range of what we might expect from our partners, brothers, fathers and co-workers so that when they bring up thoughts or feelings about their mental health, we feel ready to hear more.

About the author: 
Lisa Desai is a licensed psychologist and behavioral health professional with 20 years of clinical, management, and consulting experience. Through her work at MindWise Innovations, she helps companies prioritize effective and sustainable behavioral health strategies through the business development, design and implementation, and evaluation of mental health and substance misuse programs. Lisa lives in the Boston area with her husband, two daughters, and beloved black lab. She is of South Asian descent, speaks Gujarati, and enjoys all things social.