Men's Mental Health
In recent years, it has become more apparent that there is a silent crisis in men’s mental health. Although men are less likely than women to report mental health issues or access mental health services , three times as many men die by suicide in the UK . Men are also more likely to develop substance or alcohol use disorders , and more likely than women sleep rough or go missing , situations which increase the risk of developing problems with mental health. It is widely acknowledged that societal expectations such as traditional gender roles and norms contribute to the reasons why men are less likely to seek help for their mental health. There may also be issues or biases present in the recognition, reporting, and measurement of mental health issues in men .
In modern western society, traits such as strength, independence, and assertiveness, are traditionally viewed as indicators of masculinity . Whilst these can be good traits to have, there is a lot of pressure on men to maintain this image of masculinity, which they are taught from a young age is being emotionally strong and self-reliant, and to avoid talking about their emotions. This means that throughout life when men do have mental health issues or emotional struggles, it is more difficult for them to reach out for help because they are embarrassed , or don’t want to be viewed as weak. A 2009 study by Mind showed that men were considerably less likely than women to seek support when they were feeling worried or low for more than a couple of weeks. It also found that men are less knowledgeable about mental health and hold more negative attitudes .
Where emotionality and vulnerability are not part of the typical masculine image, mental health is not often talked about in male spaces. This is because many young boys never learn how to be open about how they are really feeling, particularly when they are struggling. They are told to “man up”, which according to its definition, means ‘be brave or tough enough to deal with a difficult or unpleasant situation’ . Keeping things bottled up and putting on a ‘brave face’ can make it difficult for men to process negative emotions in a healthy way, making it harder to reach out or even recognise there is a problem. When emotional difficulties build up, they can manifest in different ways, such as fatigue, difficulty focusing, appetite and weight changes, as well as aggression, partaking in high-risk activities and substance abuse, . The link between these manifestations and mental health is not always made, and so mental health issues in men often go unrecognised and undiagnosed. Because the ways in which mental health struggles in men do not present entirely obviously, many of those who are experiencing difficulty do not get the help that they need.
However, in recent years, the discourse around the topic has improved, and men are starting to feel more comfortable opening up. A follow up of the 2009 study mentioned above, conducted in 2019, found that men are now 3x more likely to see a therapist when they are feeling worried or low, and men are now equally as willing as women to see their GP when feeling worried or low. Discussions of men’s mental health have been coming up more and more in both research and the media, as well as an increase in mental health charities for men such as MANUP? , and Movember . Charities like these aim to change the narrative around men’s mental health, and make reaching out for help easier and more accessible for those who are struggling. As we are developing more of an understanding of men's experiences in our society, we can work towards deconstructing the conditions that contribute to the trends we have seen in their mental health.
Although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go in improving the conversations around men’s mental health, normalising and helping men to check in with each other and with themselves and acknowledging what might be damaging to their mental health. Over a third of men say that social media has a negative impact on how they feel, and 6% more men admit to regularly feeling worried or low in 2019 than 2009 . It is important to continue working towards causes that encourage those who are struggling to seek the support that they need, as it has been found that men would be more likely to seek support if it was online, anonymous, or conveniently available . We are headed in the right direction, and hopefully in the near future the issues facing men with mental health will be no longer rooted in outdated norms and biases, and that information, help and support are more accessible and available to men of all ages.