Words by Aarthy Balaganesh
There has been a noticeable increase in suicide rates amongst young men and members of the LGBTQ+ community. According to Dr. Saswinder Kaur, a Consulting Psychiatrist based in Faridabad, India, this could be due to the feeling of being rejected by mainstream society, leading to a strong sense of alienation and isolation.
It is vital to remove the stigma, stereotypes, and misunderstandings surrounding male mental health. Failing to do so may lead to a substantial number of men being under-diagnosed and under-treated, resulting in prolonged suffering and poorer mental health outcomes.
Gender plays a crucial role in determining an individual’s mental health. Studies have revealed substantial differences in the functioning of the male and female brains. Furthermore, men and women tend to internalise and react to stimuli in distinct ways. Typically, women exhibit a higher prevalence of internalising disorders such as anxiety and depression, while men tend to show a higher prevalence of externalising disorders such as substance abuse and aggressive behaviour.
Men’s mental health is often not given the attention it deserves, due to the complicated nature of male depression. This type of depression often presents itself in ways that are not commonly recognised by current guidelines. For example, men may experience more irritability and anger outbursts, as well as increased substance use, rather than the typical hopelessness and low mood seen in women with depression.
Why are men reluctant to talk about mental health?
It is observed that men tend to avoid discussing or seeking help for their mental health issues, and this is partly due to society’s expectations and traditional gender roles. While gender stereotypes about women are known to be damaging, it’s important to understand that stereotypes and expectations can also have negative effects on men.
Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and to demonstrate strength, dominance, and control. While these traits aren’t inherently bad, they can make it more difficult for men to reach out for help and open up. Additionally, men may resort to potentially harmful coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol and be less inclined to discuss their mental health with family or friends.
However, research indicates that men are more likely to seek out help that is easy to access, meaningful, and engaging. For instance, Men’s Sheds provide community spaces where men can connect and talk, often while engaging in practical activities.
Suicide and men
It is a matter of great concern that around 800,000 people die annually due to suicide, as reported by the World Health Organisation. This means that every 40 seconds, one person loses their life to suicide.
According to Samaritans, males in Wales are 3.3 times more likely to die by suicide than females; males are 2.9 times more likely to die by suicide in England than females. Around 75% of suicides are committed by males, making it the leading cause of death for men under 50.
Minority communities, including war veterans and low-income individuals, experience higher rates of suicide. Middle-aged men with lower incomes are particularly vulnerable.
A First-Hand Perspective
“I loved wrestling as a kid, I liked football and I also liked America’s Top models – why can’t I like both? I thought something was wrong with me.”
Alex, (name altered for anonymity), a man in his late 20s, grew up believing that a man should always be macho and shouldn’t like “feminine” things. However, after being open about his mental health issues and attending therapy for a year, his life has changed dramatically. He has become more accepting of himself as a person and is no longer constrained by societal expectations of what it means to be a man.
“Now I am comfortable wearing masculine clothes and also paint my nails”
The societal expectation for men to be emotionally reserved and tough can hinder their ability to express genuine emotions and seek mental health support.
Get It Off Your Chest
Get it off Your Chest: a report on Men’s mental health by Mind Charity, recommends the UK government, NHS and employers better support men’s mental health. They asked for 3 key things:
- The NHS should co-produce mental health services with communities, including men, to make sure that effective support is available locally and meets men’s needs.
- NHS England has pledged that by 2023/24, 900,000 more people will have access to social prescribing. This is an opportunity for men to access alternatives to traditional clinical services, like exercise, walking groups, or gardening groups.
- Men should continue to be a key target audience for suicide prevention action. The government should set national and local targets for suicide reduction.
The way society views mental health in men is slowly changing, but there is still a long way to go. We need to move beyond old-fashioned gender stereotypes and understand mental health better so that everyone can enjoy good mental well-being, regardless of gender.
Just like physical health, mental health requires care, attention, and most importantly, empathy. This starts with accepting that it is perfectly fine for men to face difficulties, and it is even more acceptable for them to speak up and seek help.
“Society often tells men to ‘be strong’ and ‘stay silent’ when facing their inner battles. It’s time to break the chains of these expectations and speak up, for it is in our vulnerability that we find the true meaning of strength.”
– Joe Plumb