How seriously is the mortgage industry taking men's mental health?

Long-stigmatized topic has drawn recent focus

How seriously is the mortgage industry taking men's mental health?

The mortgage industry can often seem like a more intense professional realm than many others, with mortgage professionals having faced work-related challenges of contrasting kinds during two very different recent markets.

As homebuying and refinance activity exploded during the COVID-19 years, lenders and brokers alike were thrown into a frenetic market typified by long hours, plenty of overtime, and around-the-clock efforts to ensure an ever-growing number of clients’ needs were met.

That unexpected boom was followed by a protracted slowdown as interest rates began to spike in 2022 – a market dip that’s stretched into the middle of this year, requiring the industry to pivot and constantly eke out new ways to find business.

Coupled with that gruelling day-to-day schedule is the fact that most mortgage professionals have witnessed first-hand the financial struggles many Canadians are currently grappling with, fielding calls from borrowers whose payments have skyrocketed or budgets squeezed by rapidly rising unaffordability.

Amid the economic storm clouds of recent times, 29% of Canadians aged 18 and older reported suffering from depression, anxiety, or another related issue last year – but how is the mortgage industry faring when it comes to mental health?

Men’s mental health requires stronger focus, argues executive

A frank conversation around that topic – and specifically, the oft-repressed issue of men’s mental health in the industry – is essential to helping alleviate some of the pressures facing mortgage professionals, according to Tango Financial vice president, broker/agent relationships, Lowell Harding (pictured top).

He told Canadian Mortgage Professional that bringing the subject out into the open was especially important given the turbulence witnessed in the market during recent years.

That environment has proven challenging for many. “We’re 100% commissioned, most of us, so that adds a lot of stresses if you’re the provider for the family or the sole provider,” he said. “During the pandemic, it was go, go, go. And everybody got burnt out and was kind of relieved then when the market fell off for the first month or two.

“Then it was, ‘Oh, shoot – I need to still make money.’ Then there’s the stresses of, ‘I’m not making money anymore.’ So you’re burnt out and then not [earning] – that was a pretty tough time for a lot of people.”

Mental health research conducted by the Priory Group found that 35% of men believe they have experienced diagnosable mental health conditions at some point – but that many are too embarrassed to talk about it or believe they’ve learned to cope with it.

In the mortgage industry as much as elsewhere, the topic has long been an uncomfortable one for men to confront, according to Harding, who marked Men’s Mental Health Month in June by helping launch a webinar to tackle the issue.

A “stigma” has often surrounded the topic, Harding said. “‘Just suck it up and be a man and provide’ is the kind of way men have historically [handled] their mental health stuff,” he explained. “I just wanted to start a conversation so everybody knew there was support for everybody.”

He highlighted the sterling work undertaken by the WIMI (Woman in the Mortgage Industry) group to address the subject, and said a similarly robust conversation is required among men of the industry.

What steps should the mortgage industry take on mental health?

With remote-working arrangements surging in popularity during the pandemic, and face-to-face in-person office interaction becoming less frequent, it can now be even more difficult to gauge the wellbeing of a workforce and how individuals are faring.

That means it’s doubly important to check on each other as regularly as possible, according to Lowell. “We’re lucky in our industry. We’re a very tight-knit industry,” he said. “We’re not really competitive with each other. Everybody gets along. Everybody helps each other.

“We just need to take that a step further from helping each other in our businesses to helping each other in our lives and checking in with each other and making sure that we’re OK.”

A key takeaway from author Allan Kehler’s presentation during the webinar – hosted by MCAP – was the need to have productive conversations about mental health beyond token surface-level check-ins.

That’s something Harding said should be a priority for upper management within the mortgage industry, with the initiative to be set by top executives and company leaders. “I think it would be more of a challenge for the managerial people in the company – to really check on their people and actually check on them,” he said, “not just their volumes.”

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