Let It Out: Men and Mental Health
International Men’s Day (November 19th) and Men’s Mental Health Month are both on the horizon, so what better time to raise awareness and talk about men’s mental health?
International Men’s Day encourages men to teach the boys in their lives the values, character and responsibilities of being a man. Mahatma Gandhi said, “We must become the change we seek.” It is only when we all, both men and women, lead by example that we will create a fair and safe society that allows everyone the opportunity to prosper.
According to research carried out by mental health charity Mind, during international men's day, the number of men experiencing suicidal thoughts has doubled between 2009 and 2019, while two in every five men admit to often feeling worried or low, up 37% over the same ten year period[i].
No matter your gender, looking after your mental health is just as important as caring for your physical health. But it can be tough to recognise when things aren’t quite right and, for men even more so than for women, the pressure to ‘man up’ and cope can make seeking help a challenge. So how do we recognise men’s mental health problems? And what can we do to help break the stigma surrounding seeking help?
Why are Men so Prone to Mental Health Problems?
While not quite as many men as women confess to feeling worried or low (43% of men compared to 53% of women), this number has increased by as much as 6% over the ten years from 2009[ii]. In addition, not only has the number of suicidal thoughts reported in men doubled over that time, but it remains true that men account for three-quarters of all suicides, with as many as 4,129 men taking their lives in 2021[iii], a statistic that has remained much the same since the mid-1990s. It’s a clear indication that something, somewhere isn’t improving when it comes to men and their mental health.
Why then are men so prone to mental health problems that can lead to such extreme measures?
While many men (37%) say that social media has a negative impact and an increasing number of men worry about their appearance[iv], there’s little doubt that the pressure to put on a brave face has a lot to answer for.
Traditional gender roles and societal expectations
This mean that men are far less likely than women to reach out to friends or family when they’re feeling low, which could also be why men are more likely to drink alone (and, in turn, why they’re more likely to binge drink than women)[v]. So perhaps it’s not that men are more likely to suffer mental health problems than women – indeed research shows that women are 33% more likely to experience common mental health problems like depression[vi] - but that men are less likely to get help, whether through talking to loved ones or by making an appointment with a GP or therapist.
Are Mental Health Problems Different for Men?
Statistics tell us that women are more likely to experience mental health issues than men, but how much can we really rely on them? We know that men and boys are less likely to get help than women and girls when they don’t feel right. But does that mean that they’re not suffering the same problems? Those suicide rates paint a sad picture.
Mental health problems aren’t normalised for men.
While for women, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are touched on in magazines and books, online and on TV, for men there is little out there aimed at normalising mental health problems. Yes, mental health services exist and mental health support, especially for suicide prevention, the Samaritans are there and the NHS offers counselling and support for all, no matter your gender. But in a world where men are still told that they should care only about football, beer and cars, that they should be the breadwinner, that they shouldn’t show weakness and that crying is for girls, seeking help comes with a stigma it’s hard to shake, which affect men mentally.
What’s the real story with men’s mental health?
Yes, women and girls may account for a far higher number of mental health diagnoses and self-harm victims. Yet the higher numbers of men being compulsorily detained, or ‘sectioned’[vii], the fact that men are three times as likely to become dependent on alcohol[viii] and that, according to the government’s national wellbeing survey, men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women[ix] tells a very different story. It looks very much like men are dealing with the same mental health problems as women, they just aren’t talking about it.
What Should You Do if You’re Worried About Someone Else’s Mental Wellbeing?
Those societal expectations mean that it can be hard to recognise when things aren’t right, even when someone you’re close to is suffering. So how can you support men around you when they appear to be struggling with mental health issues?
Recognising the signs is a good place to start.
Does someone you love seem down in the dumps? Have they lost interest in things they used to enjoy? Are they withdrawn or do they often put themselves down? These are all signs that someone may be in poor mental health.
So how do you help?
It can be hard to know how to approach someone who seems to be struggling, especially if there doesn’t seem to be any obvious cause, like the grief over a lost loved one or the break-up of a relationship. Sometimes simply asking the question is enough: ‘do you need to talk?’.
When it comes to talking it’s important to be an active listener.
Don’t offer solutions but ask questions. Avoid phrases like ‘it could be worse’ or ‘look on the bright side’. Try not to compare their situation to your own or someone else’s. Most importantly, signpost help without pushing them to take it. Offer to drive them to the doctor’s office or to make an appointment with a therapist you’ve read about. They may not take you up on your offers today but they’ll know you’re there when they’re ready to get help.
How Can You Look After Your Mental Health?
We won’t lie, it’s not always simple, but there are a few things you can do to help take care of your own mental welfare:
- Speak up: you may find that friends are grateful for your candour. Breaking the seal on that mental health chat could just save a life
- Care for your physical health: it’s not just a saying, a healthy body really can help foster a healthy mind. Exercising, eating well and getting out in the fresh air can have an incredible impact on our mental welfare[x]
- Think of mental health as you would physical health: your mind is just as much a part of your body as your heart or your stomach. You wouldn’t be ashamed to take beta blockers for angina or proton pump inhibitors for an ulcer – why should anti-depressants or anxiety medication be any different?
- Get help: you may be surprised to learn that there are plenty of online resources out there that can help you if you’re not feeling quite right, including some that are recommended and prescribed by the NHS. These are ideal if you find it hard to make time for face-to-face appointments
- Do what you love: when we feel low or stressed it can be easy to lose interest in the things that make us happy. Making space for hobbies and spending time with friends might be tough but it can make all the difference
- Don’t let the workplace drag you down: all of us, but especially men, can find it hard to prioritise mental wellbeing over work, leading to stress and anxiety. However, the law says that your employer has a ‘duty of care’ to protect your health, safety and welfare[xi] so speaking up when you’re stressed or burnt out can help them to help you.
- i. https://www.mind.org.uk/about-us/our-policy-work/reports-and-guides/get-it-off-your-chest-a-report-on-men-s-mental-health/
- ii. https://www.mind.org.uk/media/6771/get-it-off-your-chest_a4_final.pdf
- iii. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2021registrations
- iv. https://www.mind.org.uk/media/6771/get-it-off-your-chest_a4_final.pdf
- v. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/general-health-effects/alcohol-and-men
- vi. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/statistics/men-women-statistics
- vii. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/compendium/focusonviolentcrimeandsexualoffences/yearendingmarch2015/chapter1overviewofviolentcrimeandsexualoffences#characteristics-associated-with-being-a-victim
- viii. https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/key-data-mental-health
- ix. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/bulletins/measuringnationalwellbeing/october2016toseptember2017
- x. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/exercise-for-depression/
- xi. https://www.acas.org.uk/supporting-mental-health-workplace