Since our Keeping Well NWL Service launched in north west London (NWL) in June 2020, there has been under-representation of male staff accessing the service with only 15 percent of self-referrals coming from men (while 25% of NWL Healthcare staff are male).
We wanted to change that and together with partners in NHS North West London commissioned Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP) to undertake an engagement project with male staff to better understand the barriers to them accessing mental health and wellbeing services.
In October 2022, ICHP ran ran focus groups, 1:1 interviews, anonymous staff surveys and carried out desk based research.
232 staff responded to the anonymous survey with representation across all Trusts in NWL. 66% identified as male.
Understanding the barriers that prevent male staff from accessing mental health support
The six main barriers for staff accessing Keeping Well NWL services were found to be:
- Lack of awareness
- Lack of time
- Perceived low prioritisation of their wellbeing from their employer
- Perceived focus of the (Keeping Well) service on very unwell
- Concerns about confidentiality
Of those who responded, men of black and minority ethnic backgrounds were found to be even less likely to refer themselves to the service than white colleagues.
Raising awareness and opening up about Men’s Health
Since January 2023, the service has seen an increase in men coming forward for support with a 20% increase in male referrals. Raising awareness and sharing stories from other men who’ve experienced difficulties has helped.
Dr Chloe Schneider, Keeping Well NWL Clinical Lead, said: “We hope more men will share their experiences to encourage others to get the support they need. We’ve been asking male staff to give us feedback and testimonials to increase awareness and reduce stigma where they feel comfortable to do so. That opens doors for others so they don’t feel it’s just happening to them.
We’re here for everyone who needs to talk to someone, not just those who feel very unwell.”
The role of managers
The project found that the role of managers is crucial supporting staff when they need more help and are struggling to cope.
One interview participant in the survey said: “The people that need to know should be the ones that are directing you to find help, which should be the management. I found it myself on the Intranet… and that was quite disappointing for me. I was quite angry that, not only did I have to find it myself while struggling with day-to-day living, but I should have been guided [by the organisation] in the direction [of the service]. I felt let down.”
The service launched a space called the Keeping Well Academy last year to offer more guidance to managers on how to access information and signpost to support. Managers can go onto the site here or contact the service to find out more.
Dr Schneider said: "We also run preventative focussed interventions like workshops on mental health issues, manager training to support staff, advice and consultation on how to create wellbeing supporting working environments.”
The importance of confidentiality
One of the other significant findings was how important it is for staff to know they are accessing a confidential service.
Dr Schneider continued: “We offer high quality NHS care but separate from their employer and its completely confidential; we’re here to talk through any challenges people have and offer further support through other NHS services if that is needed. Please don’t delay if you need us; we’re here for you.”
When Ron began feeling isolated, low in mood and suffering from tiredness, he reached out to the Keeping Well NWL service to get support. Watch Ron's story below: