Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Managing stress in 2012: what can men learn from women? 11/05/2012
Stress seems to be a fact of life for men and women – but it’s how we respond that really counts. Gary Bell investigates the differences between how men and women manage stress in the workplace.
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Higher instances of stress among women
It is well established that stress-related mental health problems, irrespective of cause, are more common in women. For example, female prevalence of depression alone is twofold that of men. Hormonal factors go some way to explaining this disparity: the two most likely times in a women’s life when she will suffer depression are the first six months after giving birth and around the menopause. Psychosocial factors, in particular the conflict between the demands of family life and career, are also highly relevant.
In 2010 in England and Wales, 25 million working days were lost due to ill health, of which 11.4 million were the result of stress, depression or anxiety. The total number of cases of absenteeism was, as expected, double for women. However, this does not tell the whole picture.
Analysis of HSE absenteeism figures for 2010 suggest women in the workplace have greater resilience than men in respect of mental health in that they require 20% less time off work per case than men.
Similar findings in a recent study from Sweden (2010) give us a clue about why. This showed that female students and office workers had greater incidence of work stress because of their domestic responsibilities alongside their studies/employment. However, the study found that women were more likely to seek treatment sooner and therefore recovered quicker.
Setting an example
This tallies with our clinical experience. Despite their higher rates of mental health problems, in particular depression, women seem better able to cope than men because they are more willing to seek treatment at an earlier stage and accept professional help. In terms of outcome and prognosis this is critically important because these common conditions, while disabling, are very treatable.
Perhaps we men would do better to follow women’s example rather than resort to our traditional methods of denial or self-help in the form of excessive alcohol consumption and drug misuse.
Dr Gary Bell FRCPsych, consultant psychiatrist, LPP Consulting
Gary is a general adult psychiatrist with special interests in addictions, treatment-resistant anxiety and depressing disorders, parinatal psychiatry and post-traumatic stress disorder.