Mental health. It’s something that’s talked about a lot nowadays, in stark contrast to even 5 years ago, when it wasn’t discussed at all. Now you can open up any social media or news app and be greeted with affirmations like ‘it’s OK not to be OK’ and ‘ask for support if you need it’. Which is great!
But it’s also hiding something, and that’s the fact that mental health is still a taboo subject for certain groups of people. In particular, men. Mental health problems can affect everyone, and men are no exception, but there is still resistance for men to be open about their struggles, or to seek support in dealing with them. And since men have the highest suicide rates in the UK, it’s important to understand the mental health challenges they face, what stops them from coming forward for help, and what can be done about it.
One of the most interesting themes we’ve discovered during our men’s mental health workshops is that many men are feeling a little displaced in both their work and home lives. Because there has been such amazing progress within the equal rights movements, the traditional role of men as the breadwinner has become less critical. Now 2 income households are more normal (and in fact necessary in the current economic climate), many men are struggling to come to terms with their new role in the home. The phrase we hear a lot is ‘left behind’, and while they are happy for their partners and glad to share the burden, society has conditioned them to think their ‘job’ in the family is the breadwinner. Now that this isn’t necessarily true there will be some adjustment, it’s important that we recognise the impact the changing world of work has on men, as well as women.
When it comes to seeking help for mental health, the default option seems to be counselling, or some other form of talking therapy. That’s what we see portrayed in the media, and it’s often the first thing that’s suggested if you seek help through the NHS. The problem is, it’s usually the wrong approach.
You see, men don’t like talking about mental health. We know that sounds like a huge generalisation, but here are a few statistics to back it up:
- 77% of men have suffered from common mental health symptoms (like anxiety, stress or depression)
- 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health, including friends, family members or medical professionals.
- 40% of men say that it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm to compel them to seek professional health.
- 22% of men would not feel comfortable raising the issue of mental health with their GP or speaking about their mental health with a professional.
The fact that 77% of all suicides are committed by men highlights that mental health problems are very much prevalent, but that the current support options available aren’t suitable. Men often prefer anonymity or the safety of small, men-only spaces to discuss such a delicate subject, which means we need to be looking to provide more of these. On our part, we launched MELP to make mental health support available through your mobile phone, anonymous and accessible to everyone.
Another key theme we see coming up time and time again at our men’s mental health events is the stigma surrounding mental health for men, particularly in the workplace. Men grow up conditioned to be ‘masculine’, which is often synonymous with ‘no feelings’. This is particularly true in hyper-masculine fields like construction, and we see every day the impact of that.
The pressure to appear macho can lead to men suppressing their emotions entirely and pretending as though there is no issue. When polled by Priory Group, the reasons men gave for not seeking support were enlightening, to say the least. They included:
- I’ve learnt to deal with it
- I don’t want to be a burden to anyone
- I’m too embarrassed
- There’s a negative stigma around this type of thing
- I don’t want to admit that I need support
- I don’t want to appear weak
- I have no one to talk to
In fact, 24% of men state that they would be embarrassed or ashamed to take time off work for mental health concerns, and 38% think that their employer would think badly of them if they did request time off. The stigma around mental health might be breaking down, but for men it’s still a powerful barrier to accessing help when they need it.
How Do We Change This?
So far we’ve painted a pretty bleak picture, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. The good news is that the way society views masculinity is changing all the time, and in the last few years there have been great strides made in this area. More and more men are coming forward for help, and new generations are being raised without the old adage of ‘boys don’t cry’ parroted at them from a young age. So there is progress being made to remove the stigma of mental health problems in men, even if it is slow going.
However, men are still much less likely to access traditional mental health services than women, and suicide is still the single biggest killer of men under 45. So there is still a lot of work to do. This is one of the reasons we developed our mental health app – MELP.
Melp is a great tool for men, providing a lifeline of support that’s completely anonymous, Melp is full of video, audio, written information and self-help tools that can be accessed without anyone knowing. To get support to men (and people in general) that need it but for whatever reason don’t feel ok reaching out just yet. It’s a personal therapist in your pocket, and no one else needs to know about it. So if you, or a man you know is struggling with their mental health, why not suggest MELP as the first step to getting the support they need?
Mens mental health