Exploring men’s use of mental health support offered by an Australian Employee Assistance Program (EAP): perspectives from a focus-group study with males working in blue- and white-collar industries

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Abstract

Background: Men continue to be overrepresented in the Australian suicide statistics despite wide scale public health initiatives to improve men’s mental health literacy and to increase their help-seeking behaviour. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) deliver free and confidential mental health support; however, their services are underutilised by men. In the absence of contemporary literature that explores end-user experiences of EAPs, we asked men from blue- and white-collar employment settings about the barriers and enablers to using EAP services and explored differences between employment settings. Methods: Forty-four men participated in this qualitative study: 32 from one white-collar employer and 12 from one blue-collar employer. Two qualified mental health professionals facilitated five first-round and three second-round focus groups and one interview with white-collar workers, and two focus groups and three interviews with blue-collar workers. Data were thematically analysed using a framework approach. Results: Four of the six main themes were barriers: no need for EAP—alternative supports; uncertainty of EAP services; scepticism and distrust of EAP; and societal and workplace cultures. Elements of enduring barriers to EAP use were contained within sub-themes. These included lack of knowledge about EAPs, issues of trustworthiness and confidentiality, and fear of stigma and career jeopardy. Enablers comprised the need for attractive, reliable messaging and proactive connections and service delivery. Differences within sub-themes for white-collar and blue-collar groups reflected the corporate nature of work and workplace culture for white-collar participants, and workers’ communication and practical problem resolution preferences for blue-collar workers. Conclusion: Some elements identified in the barriers to EAP use are more entrenched than were previously estimated and these need to be a priority for action to increase confidence in EAP services by end-users. EAPs that have a visible and proactive presence in the workplace, that tailor their marketing and service delivery to different workgroups, that provide a competitive advantage to its service users, and more confidently conveys independence from its client organisations may help to increase men’s interest in accessing EAP support services. Further initiatives that reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and help-seeking both in society and the workplace are needed.

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APA

Matthews, L. R., Gerald, J., & Jessup, G. M. (2021). Exploring men’s use of mental health support offered by an Australian Employee Assistance Program (EAP): perspectives from a focus-group study with males working in blue- and white-collar industries. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13033-021-00489-5

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