Mental health at work: Are women struggling more than men?

Frustrated woman with nervous problem feel anxiety and confusion of thoughts vector flat illustration. Mental disorder and chaos in consciousness. Girl with anxiety touch head surrounded by think

Article provided by Laura Dallas, Head of product for workplace wellbeing specialists Champion Health

The pandemic has not impacted everyone equally, especially when it comes to mental health.

This year, I led a team at Champion Health to create The Workplace Health Report: 2022 in which we analysed health data from over 2,000 professionals across a range of demographics and sectors.

In doing so, we discovered some fascinating insights into the health of our workforce. And one area which quickly drew our focus were the disparities when it comes to mental health and gender.

In this article, I’m going to outline our key insights into gender and mental health – and what that means for managing mental health at work, whether you’re a leader or employee.

Women are hit harder by mental health difficulties

Mental health exists on a continuum, from surviving to thriving. The pandemic, and everything that has come with it, has seen many people existing towards the surviving end of the continuum, leading to high levels of anxiety, depression and stress across all genders.

However, the Workplace Health Report: 2022 revealed that female professionals are more likely than males to experience mental health difficulties, by a considerable amount.

For example, women were almost twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, with 62% of those experiencing anxiety, and 61% of those experiencing low mood, being female. These symptoms were measured using clinically validated questionnaires. 

And while there may be many reasons for this, these results take on added significance when considering research from Deloitte in 2021, which found that females have fared worse throughout the pandemic due to factors like increased workload and household responsibilities.

These results only highlight the need to include diversity and inclusion in organisational approaches to mental health, as it’s unlikely any wellbeing strategy will be effective without it.

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Mental Health, Seeking SupportSeeking support

Given the prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression in the workplace, it’s important that organisations provide support where necessary. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review in 2021, mental health support has moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have for organisations.

But while many organisations have taken the important step of putting support in place, our data reveals that there is still a reluctance for professionals to engage.

This is a huge barrier to improving employee wellbeing, and one that organisations need to address to create mentally healthy workforces.

We can reveal that less than 1 in 10 employees are currently seeking support for their mental health (including counselling, talking therapies and medication), despite over half experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression.

And there are also clear differences in help-seeking behaviours between males and females.

Our data highlights that females are far more likely to seek support than males. While this might partly be due to a high prevalence of poor mental health in females, from our data, we would also expect more males to be seeking support if help-seeking behaviour was the same.

This suggests that, despite the mental health conversation opening up in a lot of organisations, male employees are still finding it difficult to reach out for help and talk about their mental health, even when they’re struggling.

We all have a role to play

To address these issues raised, employers must recognise the different pressures faced by different demographics. In this instance, our data makes a strong case for additional mental health support for women (and a focus on opening up the conversation for men).

But we also know that gender is not the only workplace demographic in play. Ultimately, this is a reminder that a one-size-fits-all approach will not be effective given the variance in support requirements for each employee.

That said, there are small things we can all do to help open up the mental health conversation, helping more men to seek support in the first place, while further supporting women that are struggling with poor mental health.

It can be as simple as asking every employee or colleague how they’re doing. If they’re thriving, that’s fantastic – find out what keeps them there and make these a priority.

And if they’re struggling, find out how you can better support them and their individual needs. This will usually involve signposting onto relevant services, including their GP or mental health charities. More information can be found in this guide: How to talk about mental health at work.

Whether you’re a leader or employee, you can help to open up the conversation around mental health and make the support that is available visible, accessible and stigma-free.

 About the author

Laura has worked in a number of mental health settings across her career, from front-line NHS services to academic research facilities. As Head of Product at Champion Health, she is now responsible for ensuring Champion’s platform drives market-leading engagement with wellbeing.

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