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Men’s Health

12th June 2018

With Men’s Health Week this month there will be a lot of focus on physical health, including the scourge of prostate cancer. But employers must not overlook the mental and emotional pressure that men may also feel under.

Employee health and wellbeing – men feeling the emotional, as well as physical, burden of cancer

The charity Macmillan Cancer Support warned in April that it saw a “surge” in the number of calls last year from men looking for mental health, emotional support and counselling around the condition.

With Men’s Health Week taking place this month, between 11-17 June, where the spotlight will be firmly on physical conditions commonly associated with men – such as prostate cancer – the emotional and mental health toll that men can also often face should not be overlooked.

Indeed, the mental health problems that can commonly arise as a result of cancer are too often sidelined, a study by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has also warned.

Macmillan in its study said its helpline recorded a surge in calls for emotional support and counselling from male callers last year.

On average, eight men per day called the charity last year to talk about their feelings, compared to an average of six per day in 2016, an increase of around a third. Professionals at the charity also reported men accessing emotional support through its online community and face to face appointments.

The other most common issues that men called the helpline for included advice in accessing benefits, managing pain and information about cancer treatment.

Dr Anthony Cunliffe from Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “A cancer diagnosis can impact so many aspects of your life such as your health, finances and relationships. These changes can cause emotional strain so it’s encouraging to see more and more men talking about how they feel.”

However, the charity did emphasise that more women in total continued to call the line than men. Last year, Macmillan received an average of 175 calls from women per day, compared to 76 calls from men per day.

The Mental Health Foundation, meanwhile, also argued in April that one in three people with cancer will experience a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorders before, during or after treatment.

Mental health problems often arose at the very end of cancer treatment, when patients normally expected to “recover”, but when there was often little or no emotional support to hand.

What, then, should employers make of all this?

Breaking down stigma

First, don’t ignore the value of using a calendar marker such as Men’s Health Week to highlight common male health conditions.

The fact that in April the government announced £75m for research into prostate cancer, and the fact it has now overtaken breast cancer to become the third biggest cancer killer in the UK is evidence, if more were needed, of the job still to be done in terms of raising awareness and reducing stigma around this condition alone, even though scientists are making advances all the time.

But, just as importantly, don’t overlook look the employee mental health and emotional toll that something like cancer can cause, especially among men who may feel they somehow need to “stay strong” or “cope” or “carry on” in a stiff-upper-lipped fashion.

And, of course, it is not just about those diagnosed themselves. The emotional and mental health impact of dealing with – and “carrying on” through – a cancer diagnosis in a loved one can be immense.

Access to EAPs

To that end, offering access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can be invaluable in this context.

An EAP can offer a “safe” confidential space for an employee to talk about their feelings, how they’re coping (or not) and offer tools and strategies for building resilience.

It can also be a valuable resource for managers in terms of offering best practice support and guidance around how to manage people in what can often be challenging circumstances pre-, during and post-diagnosis.

As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, puts it: “Improvements in cancer diagnosis and treatment in recent years mean that more and more people are surviving cancer. But any cancer diagnosis is naturally going to be an intensely worrying and fearful time. It is only right employers, managers and occupational health practitioners recognise and work to manage the emotional and mental health toll that comes with it.

“Offering access to an EAP needs to be just one part of this mix, but an EAP can nevertheless be an important support tool. An EAP won’t replace access to specialist occupational health support and advice but it can be a valuable resource both for managers and individual employees,” she adds.