Men’s Mental Health: Are We Talking About It Enough?
It’s the largest cause of death for men under 35.
Three times as many men die by it than women.
The highest rates can be found in men aged 40-49 in the UK1.
We’re talking about male suicide.
Making up 75% of all reported suicides each year, according to the office of National Statistics, male suicide is still held at arm’s length as a topic of discussion.
From lower levels of life satisfaction, to being less likely to access psychological therapies and more likely to report frequent drug use – there are a number of complex factors that can correlate with high rates of male suicide.
Many of these factors don’t seem to be discussed in mental health discourse at large, even though there needs to be a societal change in order to reduce the stigma that men feel around their mental health.
Why don’t men talk about their mental health?
There are a multitude of factors that play into a reluctance to talk about mental health, culturally, societally and individually.
One of the largest obstacles men face are traditional gender roles, whereby men are expected to be the stronger, more resilient gender.
Whilst this may not be, at face value, the most negative stereotype, it impacts a man’s ability to speak about his emotions openly without fear of ridicule.
There’s a heavy expectation from society at large, and other men, that a man should not openly speak about their emotions/symptoms of mental health, let alone seek support.
By avoiding talking to others about their emotions and mental health, men may be likelier to turn to damaging coping mechanisms and methods.
Men are three times as likely as women to become dependent on alcohol, and three times likelier to report frequent drug use2.
That’s not to say that men don’t try to seek out help – in fact, 36% of referrals to the NHS are men (though this is considerably less than women), but research suggests that men are likelier to access help that meets their preferences, if it is easily accessed, meaningful, and engaging.
We already know mental health conditions present differently for everyone
Symptomatically, there are some differences in the way depression occurs in men, compared to women.
Symptoms such as irritability and sudden anger are more common in men, in addition to a tendency to take risks and feel an increased loss of control.
Subsequently, many men may turn to work to escape these feelings, rather than acknowledge them – until we acknowledge men’s mental health, we’re enabling this reaction, too.
How can things change?
When we avoid talking about something, we create a sense of stigma and shame around it.
By ignoring how detrimental this stigma can be to men, we’re ignoring the fact that since the mid-1990s, three-quarters of deaths registered as suicide in England and Wales were among men3.
How can we prevent suicide in men if we won’t even allow them the space to talk about their mental health?
The first place to start is validation.
Don’t minimise or deny someone’s feelings when they try to engage with you, but instead, validate their feelings.
“I understand you completely, that must be hard. How can I help?”
Opening up to someone for the first time about your mental health is extremely difficult, which is why this first/important interaction can make the difference between a man seeking help, or pushing their feelings down.
It can be easy to say ‘seek help’ to people, but we need to consider the number of barriers men face when seeking out support for their mental health.
Embarrassment, a fear of being told they are mentally ill, and fear of being put on medication are some of the reasons men cite as a deterrent from seeking help4.
Time to Change found that men were less knowledgeable about mental health, holding more negative attitudes, which can lead to even more reluctance to disclose their own mental health to others.
Remember that starting off with something like talking to friends and family is an extremely positive beginning, and that slow but steady encouragement is better than trying to throw them into the deep end.
If 2020 and beyond has taught us anything, it’s how detrimental isolation can be to your mental health and wellbeing.
Offering to go for walks, general exercise, meals or catch-ups of any kind together is a great way to not only benefit from social interaction, but open up the space for potential conversations around mental health.
It can be difficult to interpret someone’s feelings over text or online, so having the face-to-face interaction can go a long way in bridging that gap.
If you’re an employer looking to make men’s mental health a priority, that’s great!
A lot of the stress men feel that feeds into their mental health is around overworking and a need to achieve.
In a survey by Opinion Leader, it was found that 12% of men said the last time they were prompted to take time off work to see a GP was because they were ‘constantly feeling stressed/under pressure’ or had ‘prolonged feelings of sadness’.
Ensuring that male employees are aware they can take time off for mental health, or offering flexible working hours, mental health support at work and mental health initiatives, can go a long way in reducing this stress considerably.
It’s understandable that men might feel a sense of shame, embarrassment or uncertainty around talking about, and seeking help for, their mental health.
The only way to support men with their mental health, then, is to speak about it.
If we acknowledge the barriers men face, then we can move forwards with making men’s mental health a priority, rather than leaving them to ‘soldier on’ alone.
If you are a man experiencing poor mental health, you’re not alone, and seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of.
3, 4 https://www.mind.org.uk/media/6771/get-it-off-your-chest_a4_final.pdf