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Seren Kiremitcioglu • 14 December 2020 • 11 minutes

We Can Save Lives By Discussing Men’s Mental Health

Last month celebrated International Men’s Day. While this event can get some bad press, it’s a great time to learn more about men’s mental health.

Men can often be left behind in mental health discourse, and it’s important we continue fighting against the stigma they face. By acknowledging the challenges around men’s mental health, we can literally save lives.

A photo of a man smiling at a book
Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

Why do we speak about men’s mental health?

It’s no secret that mental illness impacts everyone differently. Men have different experiences to women, and different ethnicities will experience stigma on varying levels. Here’s an excerpt of a past blog, What Mental Health Stigma Means in 2020:

A photo of two men talking

How experiences of mental health stigma vary between groups

A vital element to consider when thinking about mental health stigma is that we don’t encounter it equally. Experiences vary hugely between conditions, age groups, genders, and ethnic minority communities.

  1. In a survey commissioned by Time to Change of people from minority ethnic groups with mental health problems, 28% of Black Caribbean and 31% of African respondents reported that they had directly experienced racism within mental health services during the preceding 12 months. (300 Voices Toolkit)
  2. Detention rates under the Mental Health Act recorded during 2012 were 2.2 times higher for people of African origin and 4.2 times higher for those of Caribbean origin than the average. In a survey of median hospital admission periods, the median number of days black Caribbean men spent in psychiatric hospital (345) was more than twice those spent by people of white British origin (161). (300 Voices Toolkit)
  3. 3/4 of men wouldn’t feel able to say openly that they have a mental health problem to friends – with the majority preferring to give another reason for fear of being seen as a burden (Time to Change 2019)
  4. Research shows that 74% of people with experience of a less common mental health problem (such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and personality disorders) said fear of stigma and discrimination stops them from doing the things they want to do (Time to Change 2020)
  5. In a 2014 survey, it was found that a shocking 93% of people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities who have mental health problems face discrimination because of them (Time to Change 2014)
  6. The most common areas of mental health discrimination for Black and Minority Ethnic communities are making and keeping friends (68%)being shunned by people that know they have a mental health problem (68%), in finding (68%) and keeping a job (67%) and in social life (67%)meaning mental health problems are becoming life-limiting for some people. (Time to Change 2014)
  7. In a study conducted by YMCA and YouthSight, 50% of 11 to 17-year-olds experiencing mental health difficulties said they have been subjected to this stigma, compared to 33% of 18 to 24-year-olds. (I Am Whole 2016)
  8. In the same study, males tended to experience stigma more regularly than females, with 49% of males experiencing it at least once a week compared to 31% of females. (I Am Whole 2016)

The fact of the matter is that mental health impacts everyone differently, and we must take the time to listen and learn why that is.

Two men sat on a bench looking over a lake
Photo by Elijah M. Henderson on Unsplash

What should I know about male mental health?

According to the 1st September 2020 report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), entitled Suicides in England and Wales: 2019 registrations:

  • The England and Wales male suicide rate of 16.9 deaths per 100,000 is the highest since 2000 and remains in line with the rate in 2018
A graph exploring the trend of male suicide rates from 2000 to 2020
Credit: The Guardian
  • Males continued to account for around three-quarters of suicide deaths registered in 2019 (4,303 male deaths compared with 1,388 female deaths)
  • Males aged 45 to 49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate (25.5 deaths per 100,000 males)
A graph exploring the suicide rate for males from 1981 to 2019
Source: ONS

Why is the male suicide rate so high?

Contextualising the September 2020 report, ONS explained: “Generally, higher rates of suicide among middle-aged men in recent years might be because this group is more likely to be affected by economic adversity, alcoholism and isolation. It could also be that this group is less inclined to seek help.”

Socio-economic inequality is mentioned across many reports, and remains a key risk factor for all groups, but especially middle-aged men. In their Men and Suicide Report, Samaritans report:

Men from the lowest social class, living in the most deprived areas, are up to ten times more likely to end their lives by suicide than those in the highest social class from the most affluent areas. Men in mid-life are the age group most at risk. We do not understand enough about why this group is so vulnerable to suicide.

Samaritans

Key demographic risk-factors

Samaritans also highlight key common themes that may explain why suicide rates are so high amongst this demographic. I’ve lifted a large summary from their report, but I’d really recommend looking through the whole thing. It’s an incredible insight into men’s mental health. Here is their exploration of the following risk factors:

Masculinity

  • Men compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility. Having a job and providing for the family is central to this, especially for working-class men.
    • When men believe they are not meeting that standard they feel a sense of shame and defeat. This type of masculinity may propel men towards suicide, as a way of regaining control in the face of depression or other mental health problems.
    • More than women, men respond to stress by taking risks or misusing alcohol and drugs. They use more lethal, violent and ‘effective’ methods of suicide.
An infographic from Time to Change, saying "3/4 of men wouldn’t feel able to say openly that they have a mental health problem to friends"
Source: Time to Change

Marriage breakdown

  • Marriage breakdown is more likely to lead men, rather than women, to suicide.
    • Men rely more on their partners for emotional support and suffer this loss more acutely.
    • Divorced men have more thoughts about suicide than divorced women; separated men are twice as likely as separated women to have planned suicide.
    • Men still tend to expect to be dominant in relationships. Some suicides in men are motivated by the desire to punish their ex-partner or may be an impulsive reaction to an ex-partner beginning a new relationship.
    • Men are more likely to be separated from their children and this plays a role in some men’s suicides.
An infographic from Time to Change, saying "No one should fear being treated differently because of a mental health problem. That's why we want to end mental health discrimination. #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek"
Source: Time to Change

Challenges of mid-life

  • Mid-life has been seen as the prime of life, but people currently in mid-life are experiencing more mental health problems and unhappiness, compared to younger and older people.
    • Men in mid-life now are part of the so-called ‘buffer’ generation, caught between their older, more traditional, strong, silent, austere fathers and their younger, more progressive, individualistic sons.
    • Men are struggling to cope with major social changes. Beyond the age of 30, men have fewer supportive peer relationships than women, and are dependent on a female partner for emotional support.
    • Today men are less likely to have one life-long female partner and more likely to live alone without the social or emotional skills to fall back on, while also facing increased economic pressures.

Emotional illiteracy

  • Generally, many men across all social classes are reluctant to talk about emotions.
    • Men can experience a ‘big-build’: they don’t recognise or deal with their distress, but let it build up to breaking point.
    • Men are far less positive about getting formal emotional support for their problems, compared to women. When they do, it is at the point of crisis.
    • Working-class men and women remain much more likely than other groups to be prescribed pharmaceutical drugs to deal with problems in their emotional lives.

Socio-economic factors

  • Socio-economic position can be defined in many ways – by job, class, education, income, or housing.
    • Whichever indicator is used, people at the bottom are at higher risk of suicide.
    • There is a well-known link between unemployment and suicide. Unemployed people are 2-3 times more likely to die by suicide than those in work. Suicide increases during economic recession.
Two men laughing and smiling together
Photo by NONRESIDENT on Unsplash

How can we support men with their mental health?

In 2019, Time to Change found “that just a quarter of men would openly tell their male friends if they were struggling with their mental health. And 39% of them said that they found it hard to spot the signs when a friend wants to open up.”

They write a great list of tips for opening a dialogue around men’s mental health, which I’ll insert below. All credit for this content goes to Time to Change:

  1. Ask Twice:
    Sometimes we say we’re fine when we’re not. To really find out, ask twice. It shows you’re willing to be there and listen – now or when your friend is ready.
     
  2. Read between the lines:
    While some men might come right out and say they are dealing with mental health issues, 31% are more likely to say they are stressed and 30% that they are not feeling themselves. 35% of men said if they wanted to talk to a friend about their mental health they would ask how their friend is doing and hope they’d ask them back
     
  3. If he’s inviting you to go for a drink one-on-one, he might want to have a proper chat:
    63% of men said they would be most comfortable talking about their mental health over a drink. Keep an any eye out for the hint. Try just listening and creating some space for your friend to share what’s on their mind.
     
  4. Know when to end the banter:
    We all like a bit of banter from time to time, but it’s also easy to spot when someone’s not in the mood or they want to be serious. If you notice something is different about your friend, or your jokes aren’t going down so well, ask how they are doing – and Ask Twice! Remember, ‘grow up’ and ‘man up’ are never helpful. 42% of men say phrases like that are conversation blockers.
     
  5. No need to make it awkward, just let them know they are supported:
    39% of men say they’ve had a disappointing reaction when they’ve shared things about their mental health in the past. All your friend wants to hear is that you’re there for them and your feelings towards them will not change. You don’t have to try and give advice, just be the good friend you’ve always been.

Listen to their stories

I appreciate the irony of a woman speaking about men’s mental health, but it’s important we amplify each other’s voices. There are so many stories you can read – here are just some:

Chris, Tyrese, Phil share their stories of mental health, why they volunteer for Shout, and why they want other men to know it’s ok to open up.

A quote from Shout's website, which says "It creates fantastic relief when you finally realise that there are people to listen and understand how you feel"
Source: Shout

Adam discusses how just one conversation can really help his mental state.

Barry shares how having friends makes all the difference.

John talks about how stigma and experiences of abuse stopped him from talking about his mental health.

Dan speaks up on the fact that sometimes, there is no reason behind depression. It can affect anyone.

Josh opens up about his experience of schizoaffective disorder.

David explores how becoming a Time to Change champion helped him realise the importance of talking.

Mitchell shares his experience of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and combats the stigma behind OCD.

Edwin discusses how when he keeps quiet, stigma wins. He won’t let that happen – words are powerful.

A man in a wheelchair smiling
Image by Gregory Akinlotan from Pixabay

Resources for men

I can’t pretend that our mental health system is perfect, or anywhere near it for that matter. There is so much work to be done by our government and a long, long road ahead. But help is out there from a variety of amazing organisations. I’ll leave you with them, but please do let me know what helps you with your mental health and if you find any of these resources helpful!

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – Offers freephone advice line and other support services for men who feel low and need to talk.

James’ Place – Provides suicidal crisis support for men via a safe and effective intervention that helps you understand how you got there, what fuels the crisis, and new ways to cope.

ManKind Initiative – Our confidential helpline is available for male victims of domestic abuse and male victims of domestic violence across the UK.

Run with Purpose (London) – RWP tackle male depression through London based community-based running groups for all abilities and encourage healthy discussions with men regarding their mental health.

SafeLine –  Support for men and young people who are victims or at risk of sexual abuse, information on how to prevent it and how to survive it.

Shout – Shout 85258 is a free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope. 

Thank you to Shout for compiling these resources.

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