Men and mental health in the Energy sector

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2023 National Energy Service Group Conference
21 February 2023

Conference notes that suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 50 in the UK. In 2020, 75% of those who took their own lives were male. 4,880 men and boys died by suicide, that equates to 12 deaths every day of the year.

But it is important to remember that mental health is a workplace issue. Whether it is about creating a supportive workplace atmosphere, providing access to employee assistance or putting in place polices such as reasonable adjustments or disability leave, the workplace is a key front in the fight against male suicide.

While people of all genders can experience mental health problems, stigma and gender stereotypes mean men’s mental health issues are often go unnoticed and this is true of Energy workplaces where men often feel inhibited form asking for the support they need for the employer or from their trade union.

The Energy industry is aware that this is an issue and ‘Toolbox Talk’ briefings are being rolled out across the sector to raise awareness . Whilst this is a positive action it does not go nearly far enough.

Societal norms can make it harder for men and boys to admit when they’re struggling to cope. Men are conditioned by wider society to see mental health issues as a sign of weakness, they often don’t talk about their problems with their family or friends, and they don’t seek professional help.

Men’s mental health shows itself in different guises, such as presenteeism, lack of productivity and acting out of character. All of these can result in Energy workers finding themselves under formal procedures such as capability, performance monitoring and disciplinary.

According to the Mental Health Foundation men who don’t talk about their emotions are less likely to recognise symptoms of mental health issues in themselves. Men will throw themselves into work, turn to alcohol or drugs, and even go missing rather than ask for help with their mental health.

This is a major issue within the Energy industry where suicide attempts are greatly under reported. Men with intersectional protective characteristics are at greater risk of experiencing mental health problems, with disabled, Black, gay, bisexual and transgender men being those at a higher risk.

Surprisingly the pandemic didn’t have as adverse an impact on mental health as was expected, with suicide and self-harm rates amongst men falling slightly. Research suggests this may be because resilience is a common human response during times of adversity. However, these figures may have masked high levels of under reporting with men struggling under the radar.

The Samaritans have reported that in 2021-22 the rates have already returned to pre-pandemic levels and are set to exceed this measure this coming year.

For too long male mental health has been ignored and not talked about in the Energy sector. Symptoms such as irritability, loss of control, risk-taking and sudden bouts of anger are written off as a mid-life crisis when they’re actually a cry for help.

Our mental health can impact on our ability to function and can be classed as a disability, but we know that many members in the Energy sector, particularly our male members, still struggle to get the help and support they need from their employer.

We recognise that for shop stewards and reps in the Energy service group, asking a member about their mental wellbeing can be hard. And if the question is asked, more often than not, our male members will say they’re fine or brush the question aside rather than ask for help.

We can’t force men to get help but we can let them know that support is available and that talking about mental health is a sign of strength not weakness.

Conference instructs Energy Service Group Executive to work with the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1. Develop and deliver a campaign to raise awareness of male mental health problems in Energy workplaces

2. Promote UNSON’s Bargaining on Mental Health Policies guide, including a new Mental Health model policy, to regions and branches as the basis of opening bargaining on this issue with employers in Energy workplaces.