Men’s mental health: The case for adding peer-to-peer community support to your toolbox

By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development and Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits.

“Are you alright?” Pretty much everyone in the UK says this; probably on a daily basis. If we’re honest though, none of us are really asking whether the other person is OK; whether they are healthy and happy. It’s simply a greeting. If you genuinely want to enquire about someone’s health and happiness, ask again: “Are you really alright?”. Either that, or get a bit more imaginative. Try instead “How’s the weather in your head?” suggests Oli Vikse, Project Development Champion at national charity Andy’s Man Club.

Over the last 18 months, Vocational Rehabilitation specialist Form Health, one of Generali UK’s early intervention partners, has seen a 37% increase in referrals for men with mental health episodes.

“Our experience doesn’t tally with national data, but I’d caution against reading too much into that. Latest data from the Health and Safety Executive shows that levels of work-related stress, anxiety and depression increased in 2020/21 in comparison to pre-pandemic. It also found – and more relevant to this particular discussion – that the prevalence rate of self-reported incidences is higher among women than men. However, if our experience – and that of Andy’s Man Club – is anything to go by, that’s because men simply don’t like to ask for help,” says Robin Pickard, Managing Director of Form Health.

One look at British Medical Journal (BMJ) health research confirms this, in so far as men are much less likely to visit a GP (compared to women), so serious issues often go untreated for longer.

Noticing that some men are perhaps more reluctant to access support, not only via their GP, but also via the workplace, Form Health wanted to add to their ‘toolbox’ for men, with an option for peer-to-peer support in the community. Hence the hook-up with Andy’s Man Club.

“We wanted to think beyond traditional corporate wellbeing solutions. We wanted an extra tool that could be accessed outside of the workplace because the idea of seeking help in the workplace is perhaps less desirable for some,” adds Robin.

Monday nights are now made for mental health

Nationwide charity Andy’s Man Club provides that support and recently Generali caught up with both organisations as part of a webinar* to find out more, asking: Why is it that men are reluctant to talk to others about mental health issues? And how can employers best help?

First, the background to Andy’s Man Club. It was founded by Luke Ambler after his brother-in-law Andy’s suicide, with a view to helping others open up about their feelings and so giving men hope.

The statistics on male suicide show that over 4,500 men take their own lives every year; that’s 12 men a day or 1 man every 2 hours.

Andy’s Man Club, which was first established in Halifax, North Yorkshire, in 2016, now runs 103 Monday night support groups across the UK – plus online groups – supporting around 1,800 men a week.

Why are men reluctant to talk about mental health?

So, we all know the saying “It’s good to talk” but why do some men seem to find this so difficult where their health and happiness is concerned.

According to Oli, who first had contact with Andy’s Man Club after joining a Monday night meeting to gain support for himself, the reluctance often comes down to a feeling that to share is:

  • A sign of weakness – men worry what others think, says Oli, who adds that there might be concerns that they’ll be ridiculed, maybe even that career progression will be impacted.
  • Burdening others – Oli explains that a common perception amongst men is that they should be able to deal with their own problems.
  • Embarrassing – finally, there’s the embarrassment factor; something that is interwoven with the two points above. “Men need to understand that there’s no shame in reaching out, whether that’s just a listening ear or something more formal,” adds Oli.

In spite of all the great work done in UK workplaces – and in society – there is obviously still stigma around mental health. “Use of the term ‘mental health’ isn’t always helpful. I was oblivious to the idea of mental health six years ago when I attended my first meeting. I just knew I needed support,” adds Oli.

Asked about the benefits of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) to help with all this, Oli explains: “EAPs are fantastic but sometimes you need that support to be completely out of work. I tried to run an Andy’s Man Club style meeting in the workplace, but it didn’t work because people were worried that it would get back to their employer and affect their job and career.

“However, a peer-to-peer support group out of work can be a catalyst for other forms of support. It’s often an access point to many different areas of support, including EAPs.

“Once a man has taken that big step to have a conversation with a group of complete strangers, they’re also often more inclined to speak with friends, family and work colleagues.

“This is helped by the sharing of real-life stories in peer-to-peer support groups. Men are usually willing to follow in the footsteps of others.”

How can employers best help?

First, spotting the signs can be difficult as often there are no signs that someone is struggling. Oli suggests asking good questions, like those mentioned at the start of this article, along with looking for anything out of character.

“Someone might be more withdrawn than usual, perhaps not as productive, or phoning in sick a lot with seemingly minor things like stomach pains and headaches.

“The most important thing for line managers is to lead by example. If they’re expecting others to open up, they need to do the same. They’re the ones who’ll set the tone for a culture of support.”

*To receive a recording of the 30-minute webinar from Generali UK, featuring Oli Vikse and Robin Pickard, also a 4-min employee-facing video, please email [email protected].

For more information about Andy’s Man Club, please email [email protected] or visit