Research Assistants Henry, Brett and George discuss men’s mental health, results from the GLAD Study, helpful resources and the importance of speaking out about this vital topic.
Men’s Health Week takes place between the 15th and 21st June, offering us a timely opportunity to discuss men’s mental health, which is often overlooked. Statistics reveal how important it is to talk openly about men’s mental health, for example, men account for 76% of suicides in the UK and is the leading cause of death for men under 35 (ONS). Worryingly, this rate is going up; according to Samaritans, in 2018 there were 6,507 suicides in the UK, an increase which is largely due to a rise in male suicide.
While not all men living with mental distress are ultimately driven to suicide, these figures represent a systemic problem that is impacting people’s lives across society. In the UK, approximately 1/3 of depression cases are males but they are significantly under-represented in the study sign-up rates, accounting for only 20% of participants (figure 1). These data reveal a crucial point – that males are affected by poor mental health, but are far less likely to openly discuss it.
The disparity between experiencing poor mental health and seeking treatment has many negative implications. Men account for 87% of rough sleepers (Crisis), 73% of missing people (University of York), 95% of the prison population (House of Commons Library), and are three times more likely to become alcohol or drug dependent (HSCIC, NHS Information Center). These issues create a cycle of poor mental health and negative life events, which can be difficult to escape from. The reasons behind these sex differences are complex, and often involve the interacting factors of societal gender roles and social expectations, life events, and biology. What is clear, is that men are overrepresented in mental health risk-factors and poor mental health outcomes, and under-represented in diagnosis and treatment-seeking. The breakdown of the main self reported diagnoses can be found in Figure 2.
In spite of some progress, there is still a heavy stigma associated with men’s mental health. Historically, phrases like “big boys don’t cry” were more common and film icons such as Clint Eastwood were seen as the strong, silent type role model men should aspire to. The strong male character trope still exists in Hollywood today in characters such as James Bond and John Wick, whose reaction to emotion or problems is often alcohol and violence.
A common misconception is that a man has to be strong and independent, and that seeking connection and support shows weakness. This is a perspective that should be challenged. Being open about your emotions and sharing your experience is not always easy and demonstrates strength. Likewise, being independent is much easier when you are taking care of your mental health. It is also important to recognise that it is okay to not be ‘strong’ and we can ask for help when we need it.
Mental health and in particular men’s mental health has become a more accepted and widely discussed topic in society. Charities such as Mind, Time to Change and Heads Together have all worked hard to bring men’s mental health into the spotlight. In addition, conversations with athletes, musicians and celebrities who share their experiences of depression and anxiety are helping to reduce stigma surrounding mental health. The acceptance and discussion about these role-models and influencers’ difficulty with mental health can help to show that it can impact anyone and there is no need to suffer in silence.
What can I do?
Talk to each other and take the time to check in with friends and family. People are often anxious or worried about having conversations about mental health because they may not feel equipped to deal with it. It doesn’t have to be the case, thus by asking “how are you doing?” or “how are things?” it gives someone a space to talk and often, the simple act of listening can help.
If you are feeling down or anxious, speak to someone, whether that is to friends, family or a healthcare professional. Organisations such as the Samaritans are another great resource to help when you need to talk. Samaritans can be viewed as a point of contact when things are really bad but they are also there if you just need to talk. You can contact the Samaritans before it reaches a crisis point, this is something that they actively encourage, to promote better outcomes.
Societal views on men’s mental health and the stigma around seeking help need to change. You can be a part of that, and a good place to start is from within. Without judgement, assess what perceptions and biases you may hold and challenge these views where necessary. Learn about what help is available and encourage open communication about mental health and treatment seeking. Above all else, make sure you and others get any help that is needed.
Help be part of the change.
This blog has discussed a serious issue that affects many people. If you would like to learn more about this topic, are looking for ways to help, or wish to seek help yourself, please follow the links below:
Heads together: https://www.headstogether.org.uk/
Time to change: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/