75% of suicides are men.
What can we do? What can you do?
In recent years, this has grown and expanded from the opportunity to avoid shaving for 30 days (that was always my excuse) to addressing many health topics including suicide prevention among men. This has been a particularly welcome in Wales, where suicide rates are higher for men than in other part of the United Kingdom.
Why does it seem to be more difficult for men to address their own mental health? I am still faced with some outdated stereotypes as a man suffering from depression; men as a source of strength, dominating positions of power, the hunter-gatherer, the idea that strong and silent is alluring/attractive, the “show no weakness” bravado of heroes in our media.
In many of these macho images, there is little room for showing poor mental health. The men who are most revered in society (famous, wealthy, successful, powerful) are not always ready to admit their struggles in public and that can leave the “average bloke” feeling uncertain about speaking out. It is great that the tide is turning for men. When Prince William and Prince Harry began talking openly about their own mental health challenges, it gave the nation an incredible lift. One by one, more of these revered men are coming forward and openly addressing mental health; footballers, politicians, actors, anyone can talk about it. I do not consider that these men are weak or failing by speaking out, in fact, they are the brave ones. They are the ones who are “manning up”. That expression is still often used for the wrong reasons, unfortunately. The concept that mental health can be conquered by simply acting more “like a man” is misguided.
Depression, anxiety, personality disorders and schizophrenia are no more or less difficult based on whether you got a Y chromosome in your DNA. Men are as entitled to help and respect as women. Men should feel safe in talking about their own challenges. The importance of talking about mental health Generally speaking, men make up about 40% of the patients being treated for depression and anxiety in the UK hospitals.The survey highlighted that for 40% of men it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm to compel them to seek professional help.Encouragingly, 60% of men polled have shared their feelings of anxiety with someone at some point. Based on the 77% who admit to suffering mental health issues however, there remain a number of men living in the UK who feel unable to speak to a friend or professional about potentially serious symptoms.
The reasons men don’t talk about their mental health:
‘I’ve learnt to deal with it’ (40%)
‘I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone’ (36%)
‘I’m too embarrassed’ (29%)
‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’ (20%)
‘I don’t want to admit I need support’ (17%)
‘I don’t want to appear weak’ (16%)
‘I have no one to talk to’ (14%)
Almost one quarter (22%) of respondents said they would not feel comfortable even speaking to a GP or any other professional; the main reason being that they worry it will waste their GP’s time. It is interesting that the survey identified that men worry about wasting their GP’s time with these sorts of problems. It does need to be made clear that depression and anxiety are perfectly legitimate reasons to seek medical care, after all GPs spend about 30% of their time dealing with psychological issues”.
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, 5,821 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.
So, if you are a man, what can you do about it?
There has never been a better time to seek – and be accepted for – help with your mental wellbeing. While you can get better, the first step has to be yours. If you are suffering from poor mental health, it might feel like the hardest step to take but it can lead to easier and better steps too.
Some of the ways to tackle this challenge include:
Talking to someone you trust, a close friend or family member or a therapist;
Considering why you find it uncomfortable asking for help and whether those reasons are actually stopping you from getting the support you need;
Reading more about mental health and the varied guidance and advice that is easily accessible;
Finding a support group, there are many around the country that are free and open to anyone;
Consider what are your weapons in this fight (i.e. the ways you combat poor mental health) – it could be anything from regular exercise to spending time with friends, writing your thoughts and feelings down, etc.;
Finding stories and case studies that will help you understand what other men have been through;
Getting involved in the great campaigns and activities that raise awareness of mental health.
The next time somebody tells you to "man up", remember mental health affects us all regardless of gender so do not feel like being a man (or the perception of what it means to be a “man”) is a barrier to finding the path to a healthier, happier you.