Men’s mental health is a problem. Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 35, with men also being more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol and drugs. Here, Dr Akash Patel, Medical director at MyHealthcare Clinic, examines the reasons why men are still reluctant to admit to suffering from depression and anxiety.
Discussion about male mental health has become widespread in the media in recent years, largely thanks to awareness campaigns like Time to Change and In Your Corner.
A reported 12.5% of men suffer from a common mental health disorder. However, these statistics cover only the cases where men feel comfortable even acknowledging there is a problem, so it’s likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.
The stigma around men’s mental health is still very real. Men are far less likely to try to access psychological therapies than women, with only 36% of referrals to IAPT psychological services being for men. Given that three quarters suicide victims are male – it’s the leading cause of death for men under 35 – it’s clear we still have a long way to go in resolving the issue of why men aren’t coming forward to seek help.
Surveys conducted by the Men’s Health Forum and the Priory that looked into why men are not seeking help or prioritizing their mental health have found that the majority of men said they would take time off work to get medical help for physical symptoms, yet fewer than one in five said they would do the same for anxiety (19%) or feeling low (15%).
Most common reasons for not talking about their mental health included:
‘I’ve learnt to deal with it’ (40%) , ‘I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone’ (36%), ‘I’m too embarrassed’ (29%), ‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’ (20%), ‘I don’t want to admit I need support’ (17%), ‘I don’t want to appear weak’ (16%), ‘I have no one to talk to’ (14%).
Additionally, 22% of respondents said they would not feel comfortable even speaking to a GP or any other professional about their mental health, with the main reason being that they were worried about wasting their GP’s time.
Studies like these offer us insight into why men are not coming forward, but how can we reduce that stigma?
We know that men and women express and deal with mental health differently. In recent years, several prominent campaigns have attempted to tackle this, focusing particularly on masculine roles like soldiers and sportsmen to highlight the fact that even the manliest of men can experience mental health concerns.
We can all agree that these campaigns are much needed. Studies have shown that men with more typically masculine traits are more likely to suffer from poor mental health and are even less likely to reach out for help, and I believe a key part of breaking down this stigma is by encouraging more men, particularly those in the public eye, to talk about their mental health and help normalise the conversation. The recent campaign work by the British royal family – historically known for their stiff upper lip even in times of great tragedy – is an applaudable step forward.
But while these campaigns have certainly gained traction, we do not yet have any definitive evidence they have made an impact.
There is some danger that in their efforts to break down the stigma, some campaigns are ignoring a whole swathe of males that don’t fit that ‘real man’ stereotype and simply reinforce outdated assumptions about maleness. While awareness campaigns are a good way to start opening up the conversation and raising awareness about mental health, further research – and some new tactics to reach a broader spectrum of men – are still needed.
The Men’s Health Forum have done a great deal of research into the importance of the language we use around men’s mental health – and how the terms typically employed by our mental health services may serve to alienate them further. Men may rarely use the terms “sad” or “I need help” – so we need to be able to understand what they might say instead which might signify a deeper issue or a key warning sign.
For example, the words and phrases most likely to be used by research participants in reference to feeling suicidal were ‘useless or worthless’, ‘I’ve had enough’, ‘hopeless’, ‘pointless’ and ‘over it’ – while terms like ‘stressed’, ‘tired’, ‘not going too well’ and ‘down in the dumps’ were often used to describe depression.
A cultural shift towards a more understanding society is ultimately the solution to the current mental health crisis, and it might simply be that it’s going to take a while to chip away at our societal norms and forge a new normal. But when it comes to understanding male mental health in particular, we may all need to work that bit harder to read between the lines.
How you can help someone with a mental health issue?
If you are concerned about someone it can be difficult to know what to do. Talking to someone is often the first step and can help you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help.
Our top tips for talking about mental health: