In November, we focus on men’s mental health. This is a campaign for anyone who identifies as male or a man and whose mental health may be impacted by pressures associated with this.
Men and Mental Health
In England, around 1 in 8 men have a common mental health problem. However, men may be reluctant to seek support for their mental health or disclose mental health problems to loved ones.
While many of the same difficulties are experienced by both men and women, some difficulties and influences on mental health may be especially relevant for men.
Societal Expectations and Traditional Gender Roles
Societal Expectations, that is, the ways in which men and women have been traditionally expected to behave may play a role in mental health. For men, societal expectations about how men “should” behave and what masculinity is includes the expectation that men be the breadwinners of their family, and that they display what have traditionally been perceived as masculine traits like strength, stoicism, dominance, and control.
While wanting to feel, and feeling, strong and in control are not inherently negative things, some research suggests that a reliance on these traditional ideals as what it means to be “a man” may negatively impact men’s mental health.
The research on this suggests that behaving in a way that conforms to these expectations, specifically expectations of self-reliance, and power over others is associated with increased distress and poorer mental health. Some research also suggests that men who feel as though they are unable speak openly about emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support.
In England, men have been found to be less likely to access psychological therapies than women, with males making up only 36% of referrals to Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). Men may also be less likely to disclose their mental health issues to family members or friends, and more likely to use potentially harmful coping methods such as drugs or alcohol in response to distress. However, there is research to suggest that men will seek and access help when they feel that the help being offered meets their preferences, and is easily accessed, meaningful, and engaging.
Crime and imprisonment
Men make up the vast majority of the prison population and with high rates of mental health problems and increasing rates of self-harm observed in prisons , men in the prison system are a group in need of increasing support for their mental health.
In 2017,821 suicides were recorded in Great Britain, of these 75% were males. Suicide represents the largest cause of death for men under 50.
Higher rates of suicide are also found in minority communities including gay men, war veterans, men from BAME backgrounds, and those with low incomes. One group that may be particularly vulnerable to death by suicide are middle-aged men from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This may be due to the interaction of a range of complex factors that include: socioeconomic hardship, unemployment and underemployment, relationship breakdown, and lack of social support, all of which are common risk factors for suicide. Further insights about risk factors for this group can be found on the Samaritan’s website.
15 Tips for Men: How to pick yourself up when things get tough
A question asked was: ‘what do you do to reach out when you are having a hard time?’
Reach out – chat to a mate when you start to hide yourself away
Be listened to – have a chat and get it off your chest
Follow social media accounts that you can relate to
Have a chat with someone who will listen and not ‘fix’ – a mate, colleague, family or a helpline
Keep up with your routine – or add new structure to your day
Get outside for a short walk
Make a motivational playlist
Read a motivational or inspirational quote – to get perspective
Do something new like volunteering
Take up a new hobby
Get out of your comfort zone – feel a sense of achievement from this
Stop and pause – take time to check in with your head by using mindfulness, writing or meditation
Focus on breathing – breathe in and out slowly for 3 minutes
Switch off – in a way that works for you, with a book, film, video game etc.
Ask a mate how they are – doing something for a mate can make you feel better
What needs to be done – how can mental health services work best for men?
We need to better understand and be more aware that anger may be a sign of an underlying mental health problem. There is a lot at stake. Population-level data demonstrate that men’s mental health should be a top priority, with men in the UK being three times more likely than women to complete suicide and 72% of male prisoners experiencing two or more mental health problems. Men are also more likely to be a victim of violent crime than women (2.4% of males versus 1.3% of females), and may subsequently experience anger as an emotional reaction to their experience.
A report by the Men’s Mental Health Forum provided a wealth of advice on how to encourage men to engage in mental health services, including the importance of using ‘male-friendly’ language and providing a personal approach. On a broader, societal level, the report indicated that the media have a responsibility to highlight positive stories about men with mental health problems that focus on recovery and hope. The setting of services is also important to consider, with safe, ‘male-friendly’ spaces, perhaps embedded in the community, having the potential to reduce mental health stigma and tackle discrimination.
Men’s mental health services also need to take into account the type of intervention, with activity, or ‘action‐oriented’ approaches as preferred ways to engage and sustain men’s involvement. Direct, solution-focussed approaches may be better suited for men and prevent them from feeling as though they are surrendering their masculine identity.
And we all have a responsibility to deal in a more holistic way with these issues of masculine identity and what it means in our cultures. In the words of Frederick Douglas, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”.
Mental Health Toolkit for Teenage Boys
In today’s turbulent times a “toolkit” to help teenage boys maintain their mental health should exist.
Here are the five tools all teenage boys should have in their mental health toolkit:
Teenage boys need connections with their friends. They should be encouraged to nurture friendships and spend time with friends. Having friends helps to maintain a sense of normalcy and shared experiences are important.
Hobbies are important for all of us to develop, as they give us a break from work/school and allow us to pursue outside areas of interest. Breaks and fun activities are necessary for mental health. Teenage boys need hobbies but may have difficulties finding appropriate hobbies, given financial resources necessary to participate in some (like sports) or to obtain materials for others (like music). Exposing teenage boys to as many different possibilities, through books, online searches, or talking with others, can help them son to develop an interest in a hobby that will allow an outlet for coping with stress or tough times.
3. An Adult Connection.
Connections with adults can guide young men through adolescence and show them potential consequences when they are faced with decisions. Adults can be there to listen; they can include parents, teachers, grandparents, youth workers and mentors. Young men can reach out to these people when they are having trouble and problems.
4.Space that is their own.
Teenage boys need access to some kind of physical space for which they are responsible. Even if he does not have his own bedroom, he likely has a bed or some portion which is his own. Giving a young man a space that is his own will allow him to have a place to retreat when he wants to escape, think, or process his emotions on his own.
Exercise in some form is essential to maintain mental health. Teenage boys might need some gentle encouragement, but it is crucial that he engages in some kind of regular exercise. For boys who are not involved in, or interested in, sports, this can be tricky but any teenage boy can go for a walk or a run, follow a yoga class on Youtube, or lift weights. Exercise helps relieve stress and releases endorphins. It will also helps for healthy habits in adulthood.