UK men 'suffering breadwinner stress'

Stress is badly affecting men's wellbeing in Britain, according to fresh findings by health experts...

A recent study by vitamin company Vitabiotics found that men are experiencing such high levels of stress they are becoming ill or falling into depression.

Concerns are being raised about the traditional role of men as the main breadwinner and their increasing job dissatisfaction, which is the root of much of the stress.

The poll of 2,300 men in the UK found 96 per cent are suffering from work-based stress with many turning to alcohol to try and blot out their problems.

Many felt that their quality of life was being damaged with 10 per cent stating that they were losing interest in their families and friends.

A further 17 per cent have resorted to visiting the GP to deal with stress.  

Lancaster University stress expert Professor Cary Cooper says the results from the Wellman vitamin survey are extremely worrying.

"Stress in the workplace is a serious problem and something needs to be done about it. The fact that one in six men have been to their doctors regarding their stress levels highlights how serious this problem is."

Cooper regards the long working hours culture to be particularly problematic for men's health.

He says: "People in the UK have the longest working hours in Europe. Employees are more autocratically managed and as a result are intrinsically more insecure. These changing patterns of work seem to be having their negative effect on men's health."

Employers can do a lot to change the negative effects on men by changing working conditions, he suggests.

"Employers need to end the long hours culture, begin to manage people by reward and praise and stop constantly fault-finding' says Cooper.

"They need to provide some degree of job security and ensure that men and women get a good work life balance."

Cooper warns that if employers don't get it right then national productivity could be adversely affected.

It is notable that some professions are more likely to induce stress than others. Topping the scale, 38 per cent of banking professionals report severe stress compared to 24 per cent of those working in the educational fields.

What is stress, though? Working conditions can certainly contribute towards stress but stress itself can be any number of chemical imbalances in the brain that causes people to behave in a way that is out of character.

For example, a reduction in serotonin levels will affect sleep, appetite and can cause mood swings.

GABA, on the other hand, can have a sedative effect where as compound CRF alters natural steroid levels. Over time, increased steroid levels can be responsible for heart problems and immunity to common diseases or viruses.

The effects of stress are often missed as the cover such a wide range of symptoms from sexual impotence to exhaustion, aggression and heart palpitations.
Sometimes the links between symptoms and stress aren't made says GP, Dr Rob Hicks.

"[Men] often just keep worrying about the symptoms they are experiencing but don't do anything about them, so they find themselves in a vicious cycle that makes matters worse," says Dr Hicks.

According to him, 'macho culture' – also called the 'Neanderthal model' - can also be responsible for men's failure to take into account that there may be a more serious root to their problems.

Dr Hicks says: "Even if [men] do acknowledge that stress may be responsible for how they are feeling, although they shouldn't feel afraid or embarrassed to seek help many still do feel this way and keep on suffering in silence."

The study found that over half of the respondents believed that they should be responsible for being the main breadwinner of the family, a significant factor that is contributing to exacerbated stress levels.

A large proportion of the breadwinner issue comes down to money. Fifty-three per cent would like to earn enough to allow their partners to give up work for family and domestic responsibilities such as childcare.

Thirty-five per cent of the respondents would also like to have more children if money wasn't a problem. However, 38 per cent of men said they were dissatisfied with work with a third stating they felt undervalued by their employers.

Some men even felt that their stress related problems were being dismissed. Dr Hicks counters: "Stress amongst men is a very real issue. Stress affects everyone at some time in their life and can have a hugely detrimental effect on a man's career, family life and health."

The Vitabiotics study echoes similar findings from the Australian Psychological Society which found that depression in males was complicated by feelings of shame and guilt with a concern that others would perceive them as weak and helpless.

APS President Amanda Gordon said: "Often men are determined that even close family members should not know how hopeless they feel."

The Australian study called for better access to medical professionals such as psychologists who can help men deal with their feelings.

So how should men deal with the effects of stress?

Of those in the advertising and media communications strands, 29 per cent find that 'intimate relations' with their partners helps relieve stress.

But more practically speaking, men should learn to identify what the factors are that cause stress. Sometimes they will be able to identify the stressor by their own subsequent actions such as nail biting or a rise in temper.

Learning to deal with these symptoms or change the stress-caused behaviour can also help men deal with stress.

Although stress-based depression can be medically treated with serotonin-boosting drugs such as Prozac, stress itself can't be medically cured.

Instead lifestyle changes should be initiated until men are able to cope more effectively. Joining a gym or partaking in regular exercise to relax the brain and workout the body may be found beneficial. Relaxation exercises such as yoga can also help manage stress by practising calming techniques.

In the workplace, it is recommended that men organise their working life to prioritise tasks and reduce procrastination. It is also suggested that men encourage friendships and relations with colleagues so that they have a better and extended support network.