Men, work and mental health: a systematic review of depression in male-dominated industries and occupations
Among men, depression is often unrecognised, undiagnosed, and untreated. However, due to increasing recognition of the prevalence and implications of depression among men, there has been growing interest in men’s mental health and wellbeing. The prevalence of mental disorders comes at substantial financial cost. It has been estimated that the annual economic cost of mental illness in Australia is $20b. In addition, adverse consequences associated with poor mental health such as suicide can be more severe among men. Traditional masculine norms and the stigma associated with mental illness can promote a culture whereby men are reluctant to acknowledge or seek help for mental health problems. Men employed in male-dominated industries and occupations may be particularly vulnerable due to these omnipresent cultural norms as well as the workplace factors evident in male-dominated industries (i.e., those comprising >70% men).
Workplaces have an important role in reducing poor mental health among men. They provide ready access to large numbers of men and contain existing infrastructure and frameworks that can support mental health and wellbeing strategies. In addition, addressing mental health issues as part of wider occupational health, safety and wellbeing programs may create workplace norms that reduce stigma, facilitate help-seeking, and reduce the workplace factors that can also be sources of psychological stress. However, efforts to develop tailored workplace interventions have been hampered by a lack of prevalence data.
NCETA undertook a systematic review of studies reporting prevalence rates for depression in male dominated workforce groups. The review forms part of a larger program of work exploring risk factors for mental illness in male-dominated industries and effective intervention approaches. Specifically, the following research questions were investigated:
- Is depression among male workers in male-dominated industries and occupations greater than in comparable populations? Comparable populations are defined as general population/total workforce/all male workers.
- Is depression more prevalent in particular male-dominated industry/occupational groups?
Twenty studies met the review’s criteria. Five studies reported significantly lower prevalence rates for mental disorders among male-dominated workforce groups than comparison populations, while six reported significantly higher rates. Eight studies additionally found significantly higher levels of depression in male-dominated groups than comparable national data. Overall, the majority of studies found higher levels of depression among workers in male-dominated workforce groups. There is a need to address the mental health of workers in male-dominated groups and the workplace provides an important but often overlooked setting to develop tailored strategies for these vulnerable groups.