Better Mental Health for Men and Boys

 

 

International Men’s Day is centred around “better health for men and boys”. Considering this theme, the current article aims to draw awareness to the mental health issues experienced by anyone who identifies as male, including stigma, statistics, eating disorders, and reaching out for support.

Stigma and Statistics

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health problems account for 12.3% of disability globally, making it one of the highest contributors for the burden of disease and disability world-wide1. However, the statistics surrounding men’s mental health are likely to be underestimated. This is because men are less likely than women to report symptoms of common mental health problems, so the figures that we see can only inform us about the information that has been reported. Societal expectations of men (e.g. the stereotype that men are expected to be strong and in control) are a likely reason behind why the majority of men are reluctant to seek help or are unable to recognise mental health-related problems. Furthermore, it is a plausible idea that men experience mental health-related issues uniquely to women. For example, early stages of depression often seem to manifest as aggressiveness, anger, and risk-taking – stereotypical masculine behaviours (“the norm”). Such reactions to a mental health struggle are perpetrated by these harmful gender roles that are placed on men, like the expectation to mask symptoms of depression (sadness, crying, guilt, etc). Despite this, figures indicate that men experience high rates of mental health issues, which is demonstrated by the alarmingly high rates of suicide.

This mix of low rates of diagnosed mental health problems and high rates of suicide alongside poor male engagement within mental health services truly highlights the need to address the lack of response towards men’s mental health.

Here are some hard hitting facts and figures:

  • It is thought that one in eight men (12.5%) are diagnosed with a common mental health illness, such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, or OCD. However, it should also be remembered that this figure is likely to be underestimated. For example, it is often harder to diagnose depression in men because men don’t often report typical symptoms5.
  • In 2019, 4,017 deaths registered as suicide were males. This number was an increase of 5.7% from 2018, and the highest male suicide rate which has been observed since 20002.
  • Reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2019 approximately ¾ of registered suicides in England and Wales were among men. This has been a consistent trend observed since the mid-1990s2.
  • Men are less likely than women to access or engage in psychological therapies. Only 36% of referrals for talking therapies in the NHS are men4.
  • Men are almost 3 times more likely than women to become dependent alcohol as well as report frequent illicit drug abuse4,5. This is because men are more likely to turn to harmful coping mechanisms than reach out for support.

 

Men with Eating Disorders

One of the lesser spoken about mental health problems in men is eating disorders (EDs). As with other common mental health illnesses, it can be hard to know the exact figure of men with EDs at any one time. EDs are often characterised as ‘female’, which stems from the stereotype that women tend to seek weight loss and dieting more overtly than males7. While there is some academic research to suggest that 25% of individuals with an ED are men, much of these statistics are contradictory6. Additionally, it could be argued that men experience EDs differently to women as, typically, men tend to favour a fit and healthy appearance (e.g. muscle dysmorphia) and are less likely to strive to be underweight or thinner (e.g. anorexia nervosa). However, most studies suggest that both males and females with anorexia nervosa behave and think very similarly7.

Nevertheless, there are a myriad of factors which could trigger EDs in men, such as bullying, trauma, the media, illness, inability to feel in control, participating in a highly competitive sport which requires extreme lifestyles, and so on.

The feminised construct which is built around EDs means that symptoms in men are often overlooked and are diagnosed late. An early diagnosis of an ED is crucial for preventing long-term psychiatric comorbidity, and any delays in recognising symptoms could be life-threatening6. It is clear that more needs to be done to identify preventative measures which cater towards the individual and unique needs of men, particularly for conditions which are stereotypically perceived as female.

Men’s Mental Health Matters

Societal expectations make it harder for men to open up and ask for help. However, all of us, regardless of gender, will need support at some point in our lives. It can be extremely difficult to know how to start, but the more men’s mental health is spoken about, the more men can be empowered to take control of their mental health.

Getting help IS NOT a sign of weakness, but rather a sign your true strength.

Sources:

  1. https://www.who.int/gender/other_health/genderMH.pdf
  2. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2019registrations
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4907547/
  4. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/m/men-and-mental-health
  5. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/men-and-mental-health-stats.html
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4538851/
  7. https://eating-disorders.org.uk/information/eating-disorders-in-males/