THE BLOG

Open Up, Save a Life

09/09/2013 11:29 BST | Updated 05/11/2013 10:12 GMT

I read with a heavy heart the news of another executive who took his own life, citing stress as the primary driver. He is not alone. As suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK. And 80% of all non-traumatic deaths are stress related. While much has been rightly made about the wage and bonus gap of women executives, appropriate attention should be paid to the struggles of executive men.

Let me be clear. I don't believe it is the fault or responsibility of businesses that executive men take their own lives. That horrific choice is an issue of such intense complexity that I dare not tread. But there is more that can be done to make employees, and in particular high powered men, feel comfortable enough to share when they are struggling with their mental health.

At present, fewer than 10% of bank executives feel comfortable discussing mental health issues with their managers. Imagine the impact if that statistic could be improved by only 10%.

Sociologist Brenè Brown spent her career researching resiliency and shame. In her late 30s she had a nervous breakdown that led her to seek a deeper understanding of what causes us to break, and more importantly, what can help keep us together. She found that there was a single key quality running through all resilient people: vulnerability. Those people who were most able to be open about their pain were most likely to be able to suffer the slings and arrows of a stressful life. In an interview in TheTelegraph she shared that both men and women can benefit equally from being vulnerable. 'I think vulnerability and shame are deeply human emotions but the expectations that drive shame are organised by gender. For women it's "Do it all, do it perfectly and never look as if you're working very hard" - which is a disastrous set-up. And for men it's "Don't be perceived as weak".

As organisations, at minimum we should be offering Employee Assistance Programmes. EAPs offer anonymous counselling services and contrary to what some might believe, men are more likely to use EAP counselling then women if they feel the counselling is targeted to their specific needs (in particular about work and relationship stress). If you work for a smaller organisation and can't afford an EAP, simply making men aware of resources such as CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) may be what they need to break the stigma of talking to someone about stress and depression.

But what's the best way to help men be vulnerable? Lead by example. If you are a male executive, be willing to show chinks in your armour. They are not something to be ashamed of. It just means you've been to battle and have a story to tell. And by opening up, you show your male execs that they don't need to be ashamed of their stories either.