Men’s mental health matters: Breaking the silence and the stigma
Mental wellbeing is a topic that affects all genders, but the stigma that surrounds men’s mental health is something that remains sadly persistent.
The figures speak for themselves: out of the 1 in 8 men that report experiencing mental health issues in the UK, 40% say they don’t feel comfortable talking about these with their family, friends or a healthcare professional.
Men’s mental health: The numbers speak volumes
Although positive progress has been made in the past decade or two, looking closer at the statistics surrounding men’s mental health reveals the scale of the issue in the UK.
According to a recent survey, 77% of men polled reported suffering from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or stress. Despite these high numbers, only 36% of referrals to NHS Talking Therapies are men. In addition to this, over 35% of men believe they have lived with a diagnosable mental health condition at some stage.
This hesitancy to speak up isn’t just making it hard for men to manage the challenges of daily life, it’s having a tragic real-life impact. 75% of total deaths by suicide are men – an eye-opening figure that has sadly remained unchanged since the mid-1990s.
Why some men stay silent about their mental struggles
Whilst men and women both experience difficulties with their mental health, there is typically a difference in how they address their issues. While women tend to be more open to talk about how they feel, men may avoid talking about their mental health or seeking treatment.
So why is this? Well, there are numerous factors and circumstances that contribute to this reluctance to open up…
In some societies there is a prevailing expectation for men to be strong, stoic and outwardly tough, even in the face of adversity.
While these traits aren’t bad on their own, when society projects this stereotype on to others, it creates a warped sense of masculinity that can discourage emotions and portray vulnerability in men as a sign of weakness.
As you can imagine, this has the potential to make men afraid to admit or discuss the challenges they are experiencing, adding to the stigma and discrimination that surrounds talking about mental health.
Poor emotional understanding
Another reason why men might not reach out for support and guidance is because they may not fully understand the challenges they're experiencing.
For the longest time, mental health was a taboo topic – something rarely discussed and poorly understood. It is only in the past 70 years or so that attitudes have started to change and societies have begun to accept that men can experience mental health issues of their own.
With this relatively new basis of knowledge and understanding, it makes sense that some generations aren’t sure how to fully express themselves or where to turn, further adding to the culture of quietness that passes onto future generations.
Reluctance to burden others
Additionally, men in the UK may refrain from seeking help for their mental health concerns to avoid becoming a burden to others.
They might perceive open conversations about their emotions as a heavy load that they don’t want to impose on their friends, family, or other mental health professionals.
As a result, they may choose to withhold their feelings and avoid help. Over time, this can bring about stress, anxiety, depression, or sadly allow suicidal thoughts to bubble to the surface.
Familial or cultural pressures
Finally, the expectations of family members, cultures and communities can become an obstacle to men’s mental health.
Whether loved ones raised them to ‘tough it out’ in the face of adversity, or the culture they belong to discourages asking for help, some men worry that going against the wishes of family members and communities can draw judgement.
In these circumstances, it can add to the embarrassment associated with opening up and seeking the support they need.
Tackling men’s mental myths and stigmas
The importance of positive mental health is becoming better understood by men in the modern era. However, there are still a number of unhelpful myths limiting our progress toward a future where men can feel safe and supported.
Here we outline three common misconceptions, and explain why they’re untrue.
“Talking about my feelings will make me weak”
It takes an incredible amount of courage to admit you’re struggling, especially if you’ve grown up in a culture or community where the expectations for men are rigid. So, far from making you weak, taking this step is a sign of true strength and bravery.
“Real men don’t talk about their emotions”
Burying your emotions or struggles can lead to a decline in your mental health and wellbeing. That’s why it’s important to chip away at society’s expectations and stigmas where you can to get the help you deserve.
“Talking about how I feel will just make things worse”
While opening up can be painful at first, every step after that becomes lighter and easier to take. It is not true that it makes matters worse long term, or that talking about topics such as self-harm or suicide puts the idea in peoples’ heads. In reality, talking is often the key to a healthier, happier future.
Ways men can improve their mental health
The current landscape for mental health in men still has a long way to improve. However, it is changing for the better. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, there’s no shame in making small, meaningful changes to your life, such as:
- Staying active: Even getting out for a light walk can produce feel-good endorphins that actively improve your wellbeing both mentally and physically
- Spending time in nature: The great outdoors has a powerful effect on us that can improve our mood and mental health over time
- Eating a well-balanced diet: Fruit, vegetables and a healthy balance of other food types can fill us with energy and positivity day-to-day
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol: Cutting these substances out of your life can benefit your mental health and stop harmful coping mechanisms from taking hold
- Talking to people you trust: Whether it's a friend, family member or mental health professional, opening up can take a huge weight off your shoulders
By taking steps to overcome your emotional challenges, you can begin to improve how you feel as well as your ability to manage the ups and downs of everyday life.
At the same time, being honest about your mental health and how you feel can be a powerful way to maintain positive, supportive relationships with friends, family and partners.
How to support the men in your life with their wellbeing
As we've discussed, it can be tough for some men to express how they truly feel. Whether they're worried about judgement from others, or they don't know how to express themselves fully, making it clear that you're available to listen without judgement or pressure can be hugely beneficial to them.
Taking the time and energy to support friends and family can be a difficult task. That’s why it’s important to be gentle and supportive at every step, and leave time to care for yourself – after all, your mental health is essential too.
Do you need support with men’s mental health?
Although society has made positive progress toward a future where men can feel comfortable speaking up, sadly many more still suffer alone.
If you’re a man who's finding it difficult to cope with your emotional wellbeing, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, you’re not weak, and you’re not a burden.
While there are a number of positive steps you can take to help you or your loved ones toward a happier and more fulfilling life right now, professional support is available.
As the local NHS support service for mental health issues in North East and South East Essex, we at Therapy For You offer a range of free, effective treatments to guide your path to feeling better:
For more information on the mental health treatments and support we can provide, get in touch with one of our qualified therapists today.
Alternatively, if you or a loved one needs immediate help, visit our crisis page or contact your GP for an emergency appointment.