The mental health of women in the workplace and five ways to support it

Work-related pressures and demands affect each one of us and they can take a toll on our health and mental wellbeing no matter our gender, age, or background.

Still, the form of such impact and its severity can differ from person to person based on a multitude of factors, so it is important to recognise these differentiators and to address them appropriately. This is the only realistic way through which efficient protective and curative measures may be put in place in a workplace.

Global studies have demonstrated time and again that the prevalence and impact of certain mental health conditions between women and men is not similar in many aspects. For instance, multiple scientific studies, including internal research conducted by CCS, have concluded that women are almost twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders or anxiety related issues and the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that “Depressive disorders make up nearly 41.9% of the disability from mental illnesses among women versus 29.3% among men.”

Looking at family life, global research suggests that, at any given moment, 10% of all women parents compared to only 6% of all men parents struggle with a mental health problem.
Even further, stress, although a generalised presence in modern days for everyone, does impact women more severely due to additional factors such as discrimination, injustice, stereotype threats, unconscious biases, gender pay gaps and so on.

Women are also considerably more exposed to harassment, bullying and mobbing and alarming research does suggest that women have a higher risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event compared to men.

To top it all, it is essential to remember that there are also several forms of mental health issues that affect women exclusively such as: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), perinatal depression or perimenopausal depression while others, such as most forms of eating disorders, have an overwhelming prevalence in women compared to men.

All of the above, although far from being an exhaustive list of all the differences in prevalence and impact of mental health conditions between women and men, do present a clear picture of why mental health and mental wellbeing in the workplace, although a generalised problem, needs to be understood and tackled through differentiated tools, based on gender, as well.

Here are five ways companies can tackle better the mental health issues and provide solid support for their women employees.

1. Conduct stress scans and psycho-social risk assessments

It is important to understand that different workplaces have different struggles based on a large group of factors. Even within their women populations, different companies can notice different types of issues based on average age groups, professional backgrounds, organisational cultures, etc. As such, an essential part of any support programs or mental wellbeing policies is to understand what your women employees really need and what are their struggles. There is no one-size-fits all solution when it comes to real support and such proper in-depth assessments provide extremely valuable insights that can generate a wealth of information to tailor effective mental health programs.

2. Make mental health a continuous priority instead of an occasional focus

Many companies err on the side of addressing mental health through occasional interventions or on-and-off type of communications. Although they might raise some awareness, this type of support falls short on delivering long-term benefits. The main reason is that, such as any other health condition, mental health struggles appear in the lives of people continuously and at any given time and needs to be addressed when it happens. Mental health should be included in organisational strategies and be part of a continuum of focused approaches so that it protects and provides support at the right time for each woman employee.

3. Ongoing programs of support and care

As shown earlier, women do present higher risks of developing certain mental health conditions or are more prone to higher severities. On the good side, studies clearly indicate that women are twice as likely as men to seek and receive support if available to them. That means that, for women, workplace mental wellbeing programs can be extremely valuable and can indeed provide the much needed help they need. Implementing intervention tools such as EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs), on-site or online guidance and counselling, critical incidence management, etc. are of extreme importance and do yield results in helping women employees cope with their mental health or psycho-emotional struggles at the right time, whenever they might need them.

4. Intervene on the organisational culture and work climate.

While many companies do have policies around gender inequities, harassment, discrimination, etc. many studies show that quite frequently they either fall short of delivering the results or are simply insufficient. Assessing the organizational cultural in this respect, understanding the work climate and how it impacts women should be an ongoing objective, subject to continuous revisions and improvements. Organizations need to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of such policies and understand what more can be done, at the level of their internal cultures, in order to nurture a work climate based on equality.

5. Conduct sensitivity and cultural trainings.

The narrative of an equitable work environment for everyone, no matter their gender, cultural background, sexual orientation etc. should always be on the forefront of a company’s internal communication. Helping employees understand this subject, helping them tackle their own potential prejudices or unconscious biases and even further helping them support each other is quintessential for a healthy workplace. Although many companies do provide such trainings, awareness sessions and internal communications, they quite often fail to assess their impact. As stated, there is no one solution that fits all companies, so the effects of such trainings always need to be assessed on all hierarchical levels of the organization and further communications and trainings adjusted so they do yield the expected results.



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